SPOKANE — The Catholic Diocese of Spokane has made its first payment into a special bankruptcy trust that will be distributed to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
The diocese and its 82 parishes wired $11.7 million into the trust on Monday to meet an initial deadline. So far, the trust has received $44 million of the $48 million promised in a settlement with victims. The rest is due by October 2009.
The victims can expect to receive payments next month.
“Compensation to victims of sexual abuse is just one small step toward healing for the victims,” Bishop William Skylstad said in a press release announcing the payment. “I hope and pray that the entire community of Eastern Washington can continue to heal and reconcile.”
Skylstad is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and steered the diocese into bankruptcy in late 2004 to deal with scores of claims of sex abuse.
The settlement reached earlier this year prohibited disclosure of the number of victims and how much each received, and some other details.
But the reorganization plan said victims will get from $15,000 to $1.5 million each, depending on the severity of the molestation or rape. A former U.S. attorney will hear claims and decide how much each person receives.
Also Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams approved paying lawyers about $8.3 million, the last major conflict in closing the case. The lawyers reached an agreement last month to avoid a court fight over fees.
The parishes have so far raised about $7 million of the $10 million they owe to the settlement, depending on a variety of fundraisers and donations. The remaining $3 million will be borrowed from AmericanWest Bank of Spokane.
Skylstad has been raising the $6 million his office owes to the settlement, although the diocese has not said how the bishop is obtaining the money.
Insurance settlements will contribute about $20 million, and the diocese has sold buildings and land, including the bishop’s home and the diocese headquarters in downtown Spokane, to raise money.
In a public message last week, Skylstad said he chose bankruptcy to make sure all abuse claims were treated fairly, and to ensure the Catholic Church survived in Eastern Washington.
“At that time, and on numerous occasions since then, I have expressed my sorrow for the damage caused to individuals, and my personal apologies on behalf of diocesan leadership,” he wrote.
The diocese has liquidated nearly all the assets specified in the settlement plan, except for the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which remains on the market, he wrote.
The bankruptcy reorganization plan committed the 95,000-member diocese to pay $48 million to settle as many as 177 claims of previous sexual abuse.
While five dioceses around the country are struggling with similar cases, the Spokane diocese is the only one that asked its parishioners to contribute so much.