Judge widens church assets case to all parishioners
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris agreed Friday to expand the Portland Archdiocese bankruptcy case to include every Roman Catholic parishioner and contributor in Western Oregon -- more than 389,000 people.
About 80,000 Catholic households will soon get the news in the mail that they are defendants in the property dispute between more than 200 sex abuse plaintiffs and the Archdiocese of Portland.
None of the parishioners or contributors will be personally liable for paying claims if they lose the case. But they could see their parish assets sold or put up as collateral for loans to pay settlements.
The legal maneuver, known as a defendant class action, is so rare in bankruptcy court that Perris has never dealt with one in her 21 years on the bench. All parties involved agreed the class action was the best way to get the stalled, 11-month-old property litigation restarted.
The heart of the dispute -- ownership of property by the archdiocese's 124 parishes and three high schools -- is vital to the year-old bankruptcy case.
If the $500 million to $600 million in disputed real estate, investments and cash is found to belong to the archdiocese, it will become available to pay off abuse claims now totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. It is those claims that the archdiocese said pushed it into bankruptcy last July.
If the property is found to belong to the parishes, as the archdiocese argues, the parish assets will be declared off limits for abuse settlements. At the time of its Chapter 11 filing, the archdiocese said it owned $10 million in real estate and $9 million in cash deposits...
Any member of the class may choose to "opt out," or withdraw his or her membership from the class. But those people likely will end up as defendants anyway, because the plaintiffs' committee intends to sue anyone who opts out.
I can't but agree with what is being done here.
Too many people have been abused.