January 30, 2005

Archdiocese builds case for parish ownership

The Oregonian

Sunday, January 30, 2005
The 450 families of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Dunes Catholic Church in Florence, have no doubt that the parish belongs to them.

The congregation dates to at least 1949, when the parish priest in Reedsport made monthly trips to Florence to celebrate Mass in people's homes. Since then, the church has been housed in an American Legion hall, the upstairs of Cooper's Mercantile Store and a 20-by-50-foot donated building that had to be trucked to a previous site in 1953.

Today, parishioners have pledged $1.9 million toward a major building expansion, said Ken Janowski, fund-raising chairman.

There's just one problem: The parish might not actually exist -- at least legally. If that's the case, St. Mary's could see $1.5 million in property, cash and savings used to help settle a staggering $534 million in claims against the bankrupt Archdiocese of Portland for alleged clergy sexual abuse of at least 72 men and women.

As a result, the building expansion, which had already gone out to bid, is on indefinite, and perhaps permanent, hold.

That's why St. Mary's, 123 other parishes, 24 missions and 44 Roman Catholic schools in Western Oregon -- as well as the archdiocese itself -- are scrambling to prove that parishioners never intended for their money to be used for any purpose other than to build and operate their parishes and schools.

Posted by kshaw at January 30, 2005 05:00 AM