March 21, 2005

Diocese property challenge promised

Arizona Daily Star

By Stephanie Innes

A formal challenge to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson's finances - specifically the omission of parishes as diocesan assets - is expected to be filed this week in federal bankruptcy court.

Ivan S. Abrams, a Tucson attorney representing one of the 34 plaintiffs with a pending lawsuit against the local diocese, says that the diocese's 75 parishes as well as its schools should be considered part of the bankrupt estate.

If the parishes are considered part of the diocese, they could be targets for liquidation by creditors, including plaintiffs with valid claims that they were sexually abused by clergy members. If they're not part of the diocese's bankrupt estate, then the parish properties - except those individually named in legal actions - would have assured protection from creditors.

Abrams said Sunday that he plans to file a formal challenge to the parish question this week. Federal Judge James M. Marlar will have the final say.

The local diocese filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Sept. 20 in the face of 22 lawsuits from 34 plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse of children by priests. The move came after the diocese reached a $14 million settlement in 2002 with 10 men who said they were sexually abused by four members of the local clergy during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The diocese has not disclosed how much of that was paid through insurance.

When he filed for bankruptcy protection, Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said it was the best way for the cash-strapped diocese to equitably handle current and possibly future lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy. But the diocese, which listed $16.6 million in assets and $20.7 million in debts when it sought bankruptcy protection, did not include its 75 parishes in its statement of assets and liabilities, even though the diocese holds the title to those properties.

Posted by kshaw at March 21, 2005 11:35 AM