May 26, 2005

Class action possible in church case

The Oregonian

Thursday, May 26, 2005
All 389,000 Roman Catholic parishioners in Western Oregon soon may find themselves defendants in their archdiocese's legal fight to keep parish property from being used to pay sexual-abuse settlements.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris said in a Wednesday hearing that she was leaning toward converting the property litigation into a rare class action at the end of July.

"I've never had a class action before in my 21 years as a bankruptcy judge," Perris said, as she and several bankruptcy lawyers thumbed through their copies of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, puzzling over the class-action rules.

Rather than name every parishioner individually, a class action would enable the committee representing sex-abuse plaintiffs to sue the volunteer parishioners on behalf of all parishioners. The so-called adversary proceeding, which is similar to a lawsuit, would be meant strictly to answer the question of who owns the property in the archdiocese's 124 parishes and three high schools: the archdiocese or the parishes.

Who owns $600 million in real estate, investments and cash has been a central issue since the Archdiocese of Portland became the nation's first to file for bankruptcy in the wake of lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse.

Posted by kshaw at May 26, 2005 07:51 AM