Thursday, February 22, 2007
DOING THE BISHOP SHUFFLE
Marci Hamilton, reports developments in the sexual abuse suits in San Diego for the FindLaw website:
On Sunday, February 18, Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Brom distributed leaflets to the San Diego faithful in the pews. In the leaflets, he tried to make the case that the San Diego Diocese could be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the 143 consolidated clergy abuse cases against the diocese for the hierarchy's role in the cover up of child abuse. . The leaflets tried to cloud the simple issue that the plaintiffs' suits really raise -- whether the Diocese and its hierarchy will take responsibility for their wrongs to children.
If the bankruptcy were filed, this would be the fifth U.S. diocese to declare bankruptcy. However, in the other four jurisdictions - Tucson, AZ; Portland, OR; Spokane, WA; and Davenport, IA-- the declaration of intent to file came on the eve of trial. Here, however, the declaration has come weeks before the trials are scheduled to begin, on February 28. It is thus geared toward setting the tone and context of ongoing pre-trial settlement discussions (which Bishop Brom specifically mentions)- pressuring plaintiffs to settle lower in order to avoid the inevitable delays of a bankruptcy filing.
Hamilton says this strategy is diningenuous because:
This triangulation strategy is particularly unpersuasive in the San Diego context. Remember this is San Diego, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the country, and the non-religious property holdings of the Diocese are extensive and valuable beyond most person's imaginations. If they were sold off to serve a fair settlement, it is simply not accurate to say, as Bishop Brom does, that the result would be to "cripple" the Diocese's "mission and ministries." Nor would parishes or schools be affected. Indeed, it is hard to believe anyone in the diocese would even notice the sale of a few of the "unusually diverse real estate holdings, including commercial projects, apartment buildings, condominium complexes and undeveloped land" mentioned in the San Diego Union-Tribune's scathing editorial of Feb. 20.
Bishop Brom, by lefleting parishioners, has pitted the laity of the San Diego Diocese against the victims of clergy abuse. If such a war can be fomented, maybe he thinks he, and his responsibility for what took place, can be moved off center stage. Nifty legal strategy for a shepherd of Christ who is out of cover-up options.