Thursday, October 13, 2005


Suit names thousands of parishioners

Thanks again to Jan.

Portland, Oregon - All but about 280 of the nearly 400,000 Roman Catholic parishioners in Western Oregon are now part of a class-action lawsuit that will determine who owns parish churches, schools and cemeteries within the Archdiocese of Portland.

The parishioners and parishes found themselves named in the rare defendant class action in July because of the archdiocese's argument that they -- not the archdiocese -- are the true owners of an estimated $500 million to $600 million in parish property.

The parishioners had until Oct. 3 to bail out of the suit, and about 280 filed the necessary paperwork.

The ownership question is crucial to the 15-month-old bankruptcy of the Portland archdiocese. If the parishes and parishioners are found to be the true owners, the property becomes off-limits to priest sexual-abuse claimants who are suing the archdiocese for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

If the archdiocese is found to be the owner, the parish property becomes fair game for paying off claims.

No matter what the outcome, individual parishioners won't be on the hook for paying the archdiocese's debts. Their status as defendants simply gives them an opportunity to have their say in the case.

Although the committee that represents sex-abuse claimants in the bankruptcy had threatened to sue each individual who opted out of the class action, the committee's attorney on Tuesday said that probably wouldn't happen.

Albert N. Kennedy, lawyer for the committee, said he had not yet reviewed the responses from the 280-plus parishioners. But he told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris that he wouldn't seek to name individuals as long as they didn't assert any interest in the parish property.

One parishioner who remains part of the class action told Perris at a Tuesday hearing that she wasn't happy about it.

"Innocent parishioners in reality have no choice about being part of this class action," said Julie Bryan Maack, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego.

Maack, one of about a half-dozen parishioners who came to the hearing, said parishioners were being victimized both by plaintiffs' lawyers seeking punitive damages and by uncompromising church leaders.

"Any amount that victimizes another group of innocent children is too much," she said. "Potentially taking away the value of schools and churches that our children attend, that have provided stability and nurturing, is abusive."

Douglas R. Pahl, a lawyer for the parishioners and parishes, told Perris that one organization, the Holy Family School Endowment Fund, withdrew itself from the class and might seek to intervene independently in the lawsuit. The school is affiliated with Holy Family Parish in Southeast Portland.

A committee for sex-abuse plaintiffs is suing the archdiocese; parishes; parishioners; representatives of three archdiocese high schools; and others.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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