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Some Wash. parishes asked to raise $10m for abuse victims

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Roman Catholic parishioners who saw the Spokane Diocese fall into bankruptcy because of sex abuse cases against their clergymen now are being asked to help pay molestation victims and bail out the diocese.

"I've been telling them the focus here is on the children who were hurt and doing what we can to bring them some sort of compensation, some sort of healing," said the Rev. Edgar Borchardt, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the college and farm town of Pullman, about 80 miles south of Spokane.

A Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan approved last month commits the diocese to pay $48 million -- including $10 million from 82 parishes -- to settle as many as 177 old claims of sexual abuse.

That $10 million is roughly what the diocese's 95,000 parishioners normally put in the collection plate in a year.

Home to Bishop William Skylstad, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the diocese is the smallest and poorest of five nationwide that have sought bankruptcy protection against clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Skylstad is raising an additional $6 million toward the bankruptcy settlement, and Catholic agencies, such as children's homes and charities, are being asked to contribute another $6.5 million. Insurance settlements will pay the rest.

Over the next few weeks, parish priests will encourage people in the pews to help with the settlement , said Bob Hailey, a Spokane lawyer and executive in a grass-roots capital campaign to help parishes raise their share.

How that pitch is made is up to the priests in each parish, Hailey said.

Borchardt's church began its campaign early, in February. The congregation's 350 families have raised -- in cash and pledges -- about 80 percent of the $250,000 assessment the parish is expected to contribute, he said.

Some parishioners are angry at Skylstad for taking the diocese into bankruptcy, while others balk at paying bankruptcy lawyer fees. Still others question why they should pay for priests who molested children decades ago in other parishes, Borchardt said. The pastor has evoked the parable of the good Samaritan, who stopped to help a man who had been beaten and robbed as others looked the other way.

"The good Samaritan was not at all responsible for the problem, but he was the one who took care of the problem," Borchardt said. "We try to keep the focus on the healing of those who survived the abuse and healing of the people in the pews. This has been fairly traumatic for people in the pews, too."

The Rev. Mike Savelesky, cochairman of the Association of Parishes, a group of pastors and laity formed to protect the assets of individual parishes, told his parishioners their church's future may rest on the success of the campaign.

Savelesky is pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, a large church and one of four Spokane-area parishes being used as collateral to secure loans for the diocese.

The reorganization plan confirmed by US Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams will pay victims $15,000 to $1.5 million each. A former US attorney will decide how much each receives.