Another View: Archdiocese mediation
December 17, 2006
An editorial from The Register-Guard, Eugene, Dec. 13, 2006
The word “mediation” is hardly sufficient todescribe the effort required to forge Monday’s announced settlementresolving nearly 150 lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese ofPortland. The suits were filed by people claiming to have been sexuallyabused by priests in Western Oregon.
Becauseof an unnecessary gag order on attorneys and all parties involved inthe case, details of the settlement and the bankruptcy reorganizationof the archdiocese won’t be available until later this month. But themere fact that U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan and Lane CountyCircuit Judge Lyle Velure managed to resolve all but 20 claims and tocomplete a reorganization plan that could allow the archdiocese toresume normal operations after three years of bankruptcy represents aremarkable achievement.
Consider theformidable challenges that confronted Hogan and Velure when they begansecret talks with parties in the case last August: Two judges with verydifferent temperaments and working across jurisdictional lines foundthemselves confronted with a disparate group of plaintiffs and anarchdiocese that had very different ideas about what constituted justcompensation for victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Thelegal landscape could hardly have been more jumbled with obstacles.There were claims filed on insurance policies written three decadesago. There were the complexities of Roman Catholic canon law, which thearchdiocese claimed prevented it from selling individual parishes’property and schools to satisfy judgments. There were the claimants whoinsisted on their cases going to trial, and the possibility of claimsthat have yet to be filed.
Then there werethe wrenching dynamics of human emotion: The anguish of victims ofclergy sexual abuse who rightly regarded just settlements as anintegral part of the healing process. The anxiety of church membersuncertain if their local parishes and schools might be sold to paylegal claims. The frustration of church officials struggling to balancethe need to keep the archdiocese intact with their responsibility tojustly compensate victims.
If thereorganization plan is accepted next week by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court,Velure and Hogan will have succeeded in resolving one of the mostdifficult mass litigations in Oregon history. It’s an extraordinaryaccomplishment that vividly demonstrates the important role that judgescan, and often do, play by resolving legal disputes before they go totrial, devouring vast amounts of time and money and leaving deepemotional scars.
Thanks to the efforts ofHogan and Velure, the parties involved in the abuse cases will bespared months, perhaps years, of protracted and costly litigation.Victims will be able to move on with their lives, the archdiocese canemerge from the cloud of bankruptcy, local parishes and schools will beable to plan with certainty for their futures, and sex-abuse victimswho have yet to come forward will find resources available to settletheir claims.
This many-sided and far-reaching resolution will gain a rightful place in Oregon history.
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