he word "mediation" is hardly sufficient to describe theeffort required to forge Monday's announced settlement resolving nearly150 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland. Thesuits were filed by people claiming to have been sexually abused bypriests in Western Oregon.
Because of an unnecessary gag order on attorneys and allparties involved in the case, details of the settlement and thebankruptcy reorganization of the archdiocese won't be available untillater this month. But the mere fact that U.S. District Judge MichaelHogan and Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle Velure managed to resolve allbut 20 claims and to complete a reorganization plan that could allowthe archdiocese to resume normal operations after three years ofbankruptcy represents a remarkable achievement.
Consider the formidable challenges that confronted Hogan andVelure when they began secret talks with parties in the case lastAugust: Two judges with very different temperaments and working acrossjurisdictional lines found themselves confronted with a disparate groupof plaintiffs and an archdiocese that had very different ideas aboutwhat constituted just compensation for victims of sexual abuse bypriests.
The legal landscape could hardly have been more jumbled withobstacles. There were claims filed on insurance policies written threedecades ago. There were the complexities of Roman Catholic canon law,which the archdiocese claimed prevented it from selling individualparishes' property and schools to satisfy judgments. There were theclaimants who insisted on their cases going to trial, and thepossibility of claims that have yet to be filed.
Then there were the wrenching dynamics of human emotion: Theanguish of victims of clergy sexual abuse who rightly regarded justsettlements as an integral part of the healing process. The anxiety ofchurch members uncertain if their local parishes and schools might besold to pay legal claims. The frustration of church officialsstruggling to balance the need to keep the archdiocese intact withtheir responsibility to justly compensate victims.
If the reorganization plan is accepted next week by the U.S.Bankruptcy Court, Velure and Hogan will have succeeded in resolving oneof the most difficult mass litigations in Oregon history. It's anextraordinary accomplishment that vividly demonstrates the importantrole that judges can, and often do, play by resolving legal disputesbefore they go to trial, devouring vast amounts of time and money andleaving deep emotional scars.
Thanks to the efforts of Hogan and Velure, the partiesinvolved in the abuse cases will be spared months, perhaps years, ofprotracted and costly litigation. Victims will be able to move on withtheir lives, the archdiocese can emerge from the cloud of bankruptcy,local parishes and schools will be able to plan with certainty fortheir futures, and sex-abuse victims who have yet to come forward willfind resources available to settle their claims.
This many-sided and far-reaching resolution will gain a rightful place in Oregon history.
for a listing of alternate locations.