Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 16, 2005
Nfld. diocese to sell its churches
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Corner Brook, Nfld.
St. George's Diocese in Western Newfoundland will sell off some or all its churches to stave off bankruptcy and meet an expected $13-million settlement to the sexual abuse victims of one of its priests.
"Our hands are open," said Bishop Douglas Crosby in a May 6 news release. "We have offered everything we have. The future of this diocese and our ministry is now in the hands of those who have suffered the most."
"If we must go bankrupt, then we will do so, accepting our share in their suffering," he said.
On May 8, Crosby read a pastoral letter on the proposal at all Masses at the diocesan cathedral and asked that all celebrants of Masses in the diocese read it too.
"We know the proposal is fair and just," Crosby said. "We know that it represents all we are able to give."
Crosby said the creditors have three weeks to review the proposal. If they accept it, the diocese will have about two and a half years to meet a commitment of over $13 million.
According to a May 10 report, Crosby told the Canadian Press that the diocese will sell all the churches, parish houses and missions - 150 properties from Port aux Basques to St. Anthony's.
CP also reported that Greg Stack, who represents 37 of 39 victims, said he expected they would accept the offer when they vote May 25.
"The amount of the settlement is almost secondary," Stack told CP. "It's been 16 years since this court action was started. They're just happy that it's over."
In March 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCOC) found the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. George's - the legal term for the diocese - directly and vicariously liable for civil claims made by victims of Father
Kevin Bennett, a priest who sexually abused boys from 1961-1989.
Bennett served almost five years in prison out of a 20-year sentence for the hundreds of sexual assaults he committed.
The SCOC also ruled the Roman Catholic Church as a whole was not liable for the offences.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) had intervened in the SCOC case, arguing against the principle of vicarious liability.
"The priest rightly should be held accountable for his breach of trust, and if Church officials have facilitated a priest's conduct through negligence, they too should be held accountable. The bishop, however, absent fault, cannot be held liable for a priest's breach of trust or fiduciary duty," the CCCB said in a January 2004 news release.
"To impose vicarious liability, that is to say to impose liability where there is no fault, on a bishop because a priest abuses his position of trust is wrong," the CCCB said.
"We accept the decision of the court and our legal obligation," Crosby said in his pastoral letter, noting all reserve cash is dedicated toward meeting this financial obligation, leaving the diocese with a bare minimum for pastoral ministries.
In the letter he said some property will need to be sold; how much will depend on the size of the insurance settlement now under negotiation.
Crosby said appeals have gone out to friends outside the diocese for loans and grants to buy back "the essential properties we need to continue our pastoral ministry."
"While we acknowledge that no amount of money can compensate the harm that was done to them (the victims), we must do what is right," he said.
"You are not responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves," he said. "But as a community of faith we must do what we can to resolve this matter in a way that provides justice to the victims and preserves the Church's ministry in Western Newfoundland."
Crosby urged parishioners to keep on contributing to their parishes.
"Your contributions will not go into a black hole," he said, noting the money will pay expenses and salaries to continue the Church's ministry.
"Your parish needs your support now more than ever," he said. "I appeal to you to act with justice and mercy and to leave any bitterness and sorrow behind."
Established in 1904, the diocese has a Catholic population of 32,060. Eighteen priests provide pastoral care for 20 parishes.
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