Questions and Answers Regarding the Settlement and Related Issues
(From the March 2002 Issue of Catholic Vision, Diocese of Tucson Newspaper)
Whether they are asked in letters or phone calls to the bishops, posed by parishioners to pastors or even raised in the privacy of a persons mind, Catholics in the Diocese of Tucson have questions about the settlement of the lawsuits that were filed against the Diocese regarding sexual abuse of children by priests.
Encouraged by the Catholic Vision Editorial Board to acknowledge and answer those questions, Bishop Manuel D. Moreno and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas and Diocesan officials talked about the settlement.
Why did the Diocese settle the suits?
In our country, disputes or grievances about harm that one party may have caused another can be dealt with through our legal system by filing civil suits. Suits can be resolved either through a trial or by a settlement.
Before trial or even during trial, parties in a suit may agree to settle. Most suits are settled out of court.
In our civil legal system, money is used as a way to measure the degree of harm that may have been caused.
In the lawsuits filed against the Diocese, it was by mutual agreement before trial was to begin that attorneys for the Diocese, attorneys for the plaintiffs and attorneys for insurance companies agreed to explore if settlement might be possible. Negotiations then took place with the assistance of a professional mediator, and an agreement to settle was reached.
It is the position of the Diocese that it was right to settle the suits. It was right for the victims to be compensated for the harm that was done. It was right for the bishops, as part of the settlement, to acknowledge and apologize for the harm that had been done. It was right to preserve the ability of the Diocese to continue its mission.
Why wont the Diocese say how much money it took to settle the cases?
The Diocese cant disclose the amount because it was mutually agreed by the Diocese and the victims of the abuse to keep that information confidential.
Does the settlement mean the Diocese is paying money to keep priests from being prosecuted?
Absolutely not. It would not have been right for the Diocese to have settled the lawsuits with that as a condition. Priests are subject to prosecution for acts of child abuse. For the priests who were accused in the lawsuits of having abused children, the statute of limitations had passed and they could not be prosecuted criminally. Immunity from prosecution was not a condition of the settlement.
Didnt the Diocese have insurance to help pay off the settlement?
Yes, the Diocese did have insurance. Because the harm was caused over a span of three decades, several insurance companies were involved and will be providing funds under the settlement agreement. (However, the Diocese was disappointed at the level of participation in the settlement by the insurance companies.) Even with the participation of insurance companies, the Diocese bears the greatest part of the financial burden.
Where will the Diocese get the money to meet its obligations under the settlement?
The Diocese is contemplating a number of ways. For example, excess property can be sold, reserves can be liquidated, contributions can be solicited (some already have been given) and money can be borrowed internally or externally.
An internal source of borrowing would be from excess funds that parishes have on deposit with the Diocese. For example, pastors of parishes who have excess funds on deposit could agree, in consultation with their finance councils, to lend money to the Diocese either interest-free or at a nominal rate.
External borrowing could be from other dioceses, Catholic organizations or financial institutions.
What is the financial impact of borrowing money?
The impact of borrowing money depends on the source. Borrowing from the outside would have a greater impact on the ability of the administrative and program structure of the Diocese to provide services to parishes. That impact could mean cutting the budgets of Diocesan departments.
About excess property, whats the future of Regina Cleri Center?
In the past, consideration was given by the Diocese to give this property for the purpose of a new Catholic high school. While this is no longer possible, a new Catholic high school remains a priority.
For the immediate future, a portion of the buildings and property will be leased again to the charter school that is leasing now.
Other parts of the buildings may be able to be used for special events.
Parts of the buildings that had been used for office space and diocesan needs will be closed to reduce maintenance expenses.
Considering the financial burden it faces because of the settlement, can the Diocese afford to be moving into a new Pastoral Center?
The Diocese is fortunate to be moving into new office space that will be cheaper to operate than the four buildings that currently house diocesan administrative and program services.
Due to the advanced age of the buildings and their maintenance costs, it was imperative for the Diocese to consolidate its administrative and program services by relocating them to the new Pastoral Center.
A substantial portion of purchase, renovation and relocation costs associated with the new Center were provided by generous donors and reserves. The Dioceses investment in the Center will be recouped in less than 10 years.
Will funds given to the Bishops Appeal be used for the settlement in any way?
One way or the other, arent parishioners going to be footing the bill for paying the settlement?
To a limited extent, yes. Parishioners support their parishes, and the parishes are assessed a small portion of that support by the Diocese so that the bishop can meet his pastoral and administrative responsibilities. From each dollar given by parishioners in the Sunday collection, 93 to 97 cents is used by the parish to meet parish operating expenses and to be used for parish growth and savings.
Only a small percentage of each dollar given by parishioners in the Sunday collection, ranging from three to seven cents per dollar, represents what is provided to the Diocese as the assessment.
It is from those resources of the assessment that the Diocese intends to pay off debt over time. Again, use of these funds to pay off debt due to the settlement may necessitate budgetary cuts in programs and services not funded by the Bishops Appeal.
No money given for restricted purposes, including the Bishops Appeal, parish or diocesan building campaigns, religious education, charity and special collections, would be available to the Diocese for repayment of debt caused by the settlement.
The generosity of our parishes to assist the Diocese to meet the terms of the settlement have been impressive and encouraging.
The Church is more than any one parish, but includes the whole people of God within the Diocese. Just as the Diocese has in the past assisted parishes in need, our parishes are stepping forward now to help the Diocese. This is a concrete witness of what it means to be the Body of Christ.
Why are two of the priests responsible for abusing children still being paid by the Diocese and where does that money come from?
It is a requirement of Canon Law that a priest who has had his ability to minister removed by his bishop but who has not yet been laicized (removed from the priesthood) receive sustenance from the bishop. Sustenance means sufficient enough money to meet some basic costs of living such as housing, food, and health and car insurance.
The level of sustenance provided to the two priests is being reviewed.
The money does not come from what is given to the Bishops Appeal.
Money for the sustenance provided to the two priests comes from a fund that is part of the Priests Assurance Association (PAA). The PAA, whose membership consists of all diocesan priests, oversees the administration of the retirement and health insurance programs for diocesan priests. Each parish provides a proportionate amount to maintain the PAA.
Newspaper stories have said that past Diocesan officials received reports in the 1970s that one of the priests was abusing children. Why didnt the Diocese do something back then?
The former bishop and the chancellor who served him during the 1970s are dead, therefore it is difficult to determine exactly what was known.
After 1997, during the process of the lawsuits, substantive information first came out that reports of child abuse had been made in the 1970s to Diocesan officials.
Under order of the court, the Diocese did an exhaustive search and could find no records related to those reports. In their apology to victims of abuse, Bishop Moreno and Bishop Kicanas acknowledged failings in the past by some within our Diocese to respond appropriately to reports of abuse and failings to recognize the harm that child abuse can cause.
In wanting all the court documents related to the lawsuits to remain sealed, isnt the Diocese giving the impression that it is covering things up and is afraid of the truth?
Legally, the lawsuits have been settled. Spiritually, the bishops are trying to settle the lawsuits by meeting with the victims and their families to promote healing and reconciliation.
The sealing of the documents was ordered by the two judges who would have presided over trials resulting from the lawsuits. The Diocese asked the judges to seal the documents, and the attorneys for the victims did not object.
The Diocese asked that the documents be sealed to create the best possible chance for healing to begin, to preserve the right to privacy of those who participated in the legal process and to preserve the ability of the Diocese to continue its mission. For those same reasons, the Diocese will oppose vigorously efforts by the news media to have the judges unseal the documents.
The truth is that terrible harm was done to innocent people by the acts of four priests, by the negligence of those who should have responded to reports of abuse and by the failure to assertively and forthrightly pursue substantive information about a priests behavior.
That truth has been acknowledged, admitted and apologized for by the chief pastor of the Diocese, the bishop.