PORTLAND, Ore., August 2, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a rare legal maneuver the Portland Archdiocese has named 389,000 registered lay Catholic parishioners as defendants in its ongoing bankruptcy case.
The Portland diocese was the first in the United States to file for bankruptcy protection after facing hundreds of sex-abuse lawsuits. In its bankruptcy petition the diocese claimed a likely $400 million in legal damages while listing only $19 million in assets.Â
The lawyers of the sex-abuse victims, however, are arguing that the diocese owns the property and buildings of its 124 parishes, estimated at a worth of $600 million. The diocese, on the other hand, claims that the church property belongs to the parishioners and the parishes and not the diocese as a whole.
If the court finds that the Portland parishes do belong to the diocese then the diocese may become the latest of the US dioceses forced to sell and close parishes and schools to pay legal settlements. The Portland bankruptcy court agreed to allow the nearly 400,000 parishioners to serve as defendants in the hope that it could settle once and for all the disputes over the ownership of the diocese’s parishes.
The Portland case adds to the long string of unprecedented lawsuits and awards against Catholic dioceses, and ultimately all their innocent parishioners, for the admittedly disturbing negligence or criminal activities of some of the diocesan staff or leaders. Critics charge that secular institutions, such as school boards, prisons and other government agencies have rarely, if ever, been subject to such crippling legal retaliation for similar sexual offences or negligence’s by many of their staff. As well, it is rare for courts to allow numerous cases to be pursued going so far into the past as has happened with the Church abuse cases.
There are increasing questions about whether, despite the serious guilt of the individuals charged with abuse offences, the massive awards are more about singling out Catholic dioceses with special tactics in order to destroy the influence of the Church rather than punish the guilty.
See LifeSiteNews.com’s Church Abuse Crisis pages