NOVEMBER 22, 2004





Spokane Diocese plans bankruptcy filing
SPOKANE, WA (RNS) – The Diocese of Spokane plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being unable to settle 28 claims against it relating to sexual abuse.

Bishop William S. Skylstad said those claims related to the actions of one former diocesan priest, Patrick O’Donnell. But Bishop Skylstad said another 30 claims are pending in other cases, bringing the total of sought damages to “tens of millions of dollars.” He hopes the move toward reorganization will permit fair treatment of the victims and the continuation of the diocese’s ministries.

He expects the filing to take place by Nov. 29. If it occurs, Spokane will be the third diocese in U.S. history to make such a move. The Diocese of Tucson filed for bankruptcy protection in September, following a similar step by the Portland Archdiocese in July.

School named for bishop renamed after abuse suit
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) – The Diocese of Baton Rouge is settling a lawsuit with a man who accused a long-deceased bishop of abuse, and it is taking the bishop’s name from a high school.

The diocese did not give details of the settlement involving Bishop Joseph Sullivan. But Bishop Robert Muench, who announced the deal Nov. 11, said the accuser’s allegations were credible. Bishop Sullivan served as bishop in Baton Rouge from 1974 until his death in 1982.

The accuser, now in his 40s, said he was 17 when Bishop Sullivan sexually abused him in 1975. The man’s name was not released. Bishop Muench said Bishop Sullivan High School would get a new name, still to be determined, at the start of the next school year.

Court asked to review assisted-suicide law
WASHINGTON (RNS) – Oregon’s one-of-a-kind law allowing doctor-assisted suicide moved toward the ultimate legal test Nov. 9 when the U.S. Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision that upheld the law.

In its filing, the department argued that Oregon usurped the Controlled Substances Act by permitting doctors to prescribe lethal doses of pain-killing drugs. Assisted suicide is not a “legitimate medical purpose” of the drugs, it said.

The U.S. Supreme Court typically takes about six weeks to review and decide whether to accept cases. If it rejects the petition, the Oregon law would remain in effect and could be blocked only by an act of Congress.

Vatican and Italy open Inquisition documents
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – The Vatican will open its archives to Italian state officials and academics for a computer-driven project that will catalogue all available documents on the Inquisition in Italy.

“Such a vast operation, never before undertaken, is of great importance to respond to new directions of international research on the control of religious ideas in medieval and modern Europe,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Under an agreement signed on Nov. 9, archivists will survey documentation held by the Vatican, the Italian government, Italian libraries and private collectors.

The Inquisition, begun by Pope Innocent III at the end of the 12th century in response to alleged heresies, spread throughout Europe and led to the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain. Torture was permitted to secure proof of heresy, and if accused heretics did not repent, officials of the Inquisition could turn them over to civil authorities for execution by hanging or burning at the stake.

Survey suggests Iraq war was key ‘moral’ issue
NEW YORK (RNS) – The war in Iraq was the most important “moral issue” for voters in the Nov. 2 election, according a national poll by progressive faith groups, far outpacing abortion and gay marriage as top-shelf concerns.

The poll, released Nov. 9, suggests that the 22 percent of voters who listed “moral values” as the most decisive factor in their votes may be concerned about more than gay marriage and abortion.

Forty-two percent of voters in the new poll listed the Iraq war as their top moral concern, followed by 13 percent who listed abortion and 9 percent who said gay marriage.

The war led among both Catholics and “born-again” Christians.

N.H. won’t prosecute bishop on sex abuse
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – New Hampshire authorities said Nov. 10 they cannot prosecute former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre on charges he abused two teens in the 1970s because it wasn’t a crime at the time to have sex with youths their age.

Bishop Dupre, 70, the first Catholic bishop to face sexual abuse charges, was accused of having oral sex with two Massachusetts boys during a trip to New Hampshire when they were 16 or 17. Saying the statute of limitations had expired, officials in Massachusetts have also declined to prosecute Bishop Dupre over allegations he abused the same boys in that state in the 1970s.

Bishop Dupre still faces lawsuits filed against him by the accusers.

Australia to consider laws restricting abortion
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Prime Minister John Howard will allow government lawmakers to introduce legislation to Parliament restricting abortions in Australia, setting the stage for a national debate.

But Howard, who in the past has condemned what he called late-term abortions, stressed that the government would not adopt a policy one way or the other, and that government lawmakers would not be bound to vote along political party lines on any abortion bill.

Various states officially ban abortion on demand in Australia, but critics say the laws are vague and allow pregnancies to be terminated without legitimate medical justification. The federal government doesn’t regulate the practice, but effectively subsidizes it through grants to hospitals.

Gay couple seek to have union legalized in Ireland
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) – A lesbian couple who wed in Canada can seek to have their union legally recognized in Ireland, a judge has ruled. High Court Justice Liam McKechnie said lawyers representing the couple had presented an arguable case that merited a full hearing, likely to take place next year. The couple is demanding that Ireland’s tax collection agency allow them to file as a married couple rather than as two single people, which involves paying more tax.

Diocese to sell property to settle abuse claims
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – The Diocese of Tucson will attempt to sell some properties, try to get significant help from its insurers and encourage parish contributions to settle sex abuse claims, diocesan officials have told bankruptcy creditors.

John Shaheen, property manager for the Tucson Diocese, said the diocese is committed to selling properties it holds to help raise money toward a pool from which victims of clergy sexual abuse will be paid. Bishop Gerald Kicanas said the diocese has paid out “maybe $15 million” in settlements to date, including a group of 11 lawsuits settled in 2002. “We’ve had to beg and borrow from anyone who would help us,” he said.

Pope lists challenges for bishops of the Americas
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope John Paul II told the Catholic bishops of the
Americas that they face formidable challenges in their efforts to “consolidate the Christian identity of the continent.”

The first challenge comes from other churches, the pontiff told a committee of bishops from North, South and Central America reviewing the progress of the American church since a special assembly of bishops held in 1997. The pope advised ecumenical dialogue, but warned against letting dialogue “crack the firm conviction in Catholics that only in the Catholic Church is there the fullness of the means of salvation established by Jesus Christ.”

Other challenges include “the ill-omened action of sects,” “the negative consequences of globalization, especially when absolute value is attributed to economics,” and “growing urbanization with inevitable cultural uprooting.”
He also attacked a “culture of death,” which he said can be seen in the arms race “and the execrable practice of violence let loose by guerrillas and international terrorism.”

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.