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S.D. Catholics, Community React to Diocese Bankruptcy Filing

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

San Diego Catholics are taking in the news that their Diocese is filing for bankruptcy. The announcement was made Tuesday, just a day before San Diego's first clery sex abuse trial was scheduled to begin. That trial has been halted as a result. KPBS Radio's Andrea Hsu has more.

It's noon at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in the heart Little Italy. About 100 faithful file into the modest church for mass.

It's a short service - about half an hour. Parishioners exchange greetings of peace and receive Communion. And before the end of the service, Father Louie Solcia reads from a Pastoral Letter from Bishop Robert Brom.

Solcia: In order to compensate all the victims fairly, equitably...

The letter - announcing the bankruptcy filing - was posted the day before on the San Diego Diocese's website. In it, Bishop Brom wrote that settlement negotiations with victims of sex abuse by clergy had been unsuccessful. That their demands exceeded the financial resources of the Diocese and its insurance carrier. And that the move was not - in his words - a cop out, but a sincere effort to face up to responsibility.

Outside the church just afterwards -- Parishioner Mary McCroskey says she took those words to heart.

McCroskey: I'm grateful for our bishop - he's worked tirelessly to try and make this a fair and equitable solution. I think bankruptcy is there to help preserve the assets and not to punish everyone for the sins of a few.

McCarthy: I think it's too bad they have to file for bankruptcy, but they filed themselves into it. so that's too bad.

Parishioner Bob McCarthy is originally from Boston. He says hundreds of victims of clergy sex abuse there have gotten compensation. He thinks eventually, those in San Diego will too, despite the bankruptcy.

McCarthy: I personally don’t think it's going to bury the cases. The cases will come forth - it's just a reorganization - protect some of their assets, but I think the cases will settle.

Our Lady of the Rosary's Music Director Maryann Wilson attended noon mass with her husband and two young boys. She says she's saddened by the whole situation, and hopes for justice for the victims. At the same time, she worries what Chapter 11 could mean for the diocese.

Wilson: I think sometimes people get the impression that they can sue the Catholic Church and that it has all this money, but I work for the church and I see not only my own family where money goes - but more importantly, see where money goes for homeless, aids victims, all kinds of people, single moms, trying to make it. I hope there's going to be money for necessary programs.

While those here are calmly accepting the news -- half a dozen blocks away, in front of Saint Joseph's Cathedral, it's a different story. Members of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests gathered for a news conference. National Director David Clohessy called on Bishop Brom to continue negotiations in court on Friday, echoing a request made earlier this week by the judge overseeing the case.

Clohessy: Show up in court as the judge ordered on Friday, and make one last attempt to resolve these cases for the benefit of victims, of children, and of parishioners.

San Diego is the fifth Catholic Diocese in the country to file for bankruptcy. It's by far the largest -- with almost 100 churches, 50 schools, and one million parishioners. Currently, it has close to 150 cases of clergy sex abuse filed against it.

For KPBS, I'm Andrea Hsu.

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