Davenport Diocese files reorganization plan in bankruptcy court

By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholic News Service

DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) -- Fifteen months after the Diocese of Davenport filed for bankruptcy, it submitted a reorganization plan with the committee that represents most of its creditors -- 156 survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

The proposal, filed Jan. 31 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa after months of arduous negotiations, could be confirmed later this spring, said Dick Davidson, the diocese's bankruptcy attorney.

At a March 5 hearing, Judge Lee Jackwig will consider approval of the diocese's disclosure statement. The 73-page document provides a summary of the 84-page reorganization plan, which outlines the process for distributing a $37 million settlement among creditors and identifies 17 nonmonetary measures the diocese will take to foster healing and to prevent abuse in the future.

In a letter read at Masses Feb. 2-3 throughout the diocese, Davenport Bishop Martin J. Amos observed: "This part of our journey will take place during Lent and Easter ... and I believe that together we will emerge strengthened by the celebration of the joy of the risen Lord."

He also apologized to those who have been hurt by abuse. "I hope this can be a time of healing and hope for them and all of us," Bishop Amos said.

Msgr. John Hyland, the diocese's vicar general, said: "My heart goes out to all of those who were abused and to their families and, likewise, I apologize to them. I hope the process of healing can begin, if it has not already begun to do so."

"What the members of the Diocese of Davenport have to know is that these (survivors) are family members and friends who grew up with them in the parishes and diocese," said Craig Levien, an attorney who represents a number of clergy sexual abuse survivors.

"What they really want at the end of the day is to be believed and loved and not to be blamed for telling their stories," he said.

The diocese negotiated the global settlement with the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors and Travelers Insurance Co. Nov. 28, 2007. It protects all Catholic entities affiliated with the diocese from any liability related to abuse committed before Oct. 10, 2006.

Travelers Insurance is contributing $19.5 million to the settlement, while the diocese's share is $17.5 million, $3.9 million of which is the deed to the diocesan headquarters property, known as the St. Vincent Center. The diocese will deed the property to the settlement trustee.

The diocese has $5.7 million cash on hand and will receive $3 million toward the settlement from St. Vincent Home Corp., the foundation established after the closing of what was an orphanage, and another $2.9 million from four parishes where significant abuse took place, the bishop said in his letter.

Those parishes will be named after their parishioners have been informed of the contributions, diocesan officials said.

"We are still $2 million short ... and it appears that we will have to borrow money to raise that amount," Bishop Amos said in his letter.

He noted that some parishes have expressed an interest in helping to reduce the diocese's need to borrow money. Even after the settlement is paid, the diocese faces new challenges in providing office space for diocesan offices and quarters for the priests who live at St. Vincent's Center, the bishop said.

A fundraising campaign will begin in the next year to make it possible to continue ministry to all the people in the diocese, he added.

Among the nonmonetary ways the diocese will make amends are:

• Publicly releasing the names of all perpetrators with credible accusations of abuse.

• Bishop Amos visiting each parish where abuse occurred and publicizing those visits ahead of time in The Catholic Messenger, Davenport's diocesan newspaper, and parish bulletins; and making space available in the diocesan paper for survivors to publish the stories of their abuse.

• All priests and the bishop making a written statement that they have not abused any minor at any time and have no knowledge that any other priest or diocesan employee has done so.

• Submitting a full report to the apostolic nuncio for appropriate action to be taken with respect to retired Bishop Lawrence D. Soens of Sioux City. The bishop, who was a Davenport diocesan priest for 33 years before being appointed Sioux City bishop, is the subject of 25 claims of abuse, said attorneys for the diocese and creditors.

"The biggest part in the settlement plan for me is the nonmonetary agreements that were reached," said Mike Uhde, who co-chairs the creditors committee and won a $1.5 million judgment against the diocese for clergy sexual abuse prior to the diocese filing for bankruptcy.

"Those 17 points were the whole meat and potatoes of the agreement as far as I'm concerned," he said.

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