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Now Bush's Religious Right WingNuts Subvert the CRIMINAL Justice System

Whited Sepulchers

Critics question system that keeps sex-abuse claims secret

A system allowing information about sex-abuse claims against priests in the Spokane Catholic Diocese to be kept secret has come as a surprise to some victims who approved a $48 million settlement, setting the stage for the diocese to emerge from bankruptcy.
All sides in the case -- including Bishop William Skylstad, committees representing sex abuse victims, and parish representatives -- agreed to an "alternative judicial system" that allows accusers to present abuse allegations to an independent claims reviewer who will decide if claims have merit and how much money should be paid.

No information about those payouts, including the names of priests on whom claims were paid, will be made public in court filings, attorneys told The Spokesman-Review.

"We still haven't achieved our ultimate goal, which is to get the truth out," Michael Shea, a victim and member of a bankruptcy group representing other claimants, told the newspaper. "We're talking about all the priests that were accused by victims."

Shea said he fears that the confidentiality provisions may undermine the goal of many victims to ensure full disclosure and policy changes to protect children.

Diocese attorneys Shaun Cross and Greg Arpin countered that victims insisted on most of the confidentiality requirements. "So long as the process was acceptable to the victims going through the process it was acceptable to the diocese," Cross said.

The claims review process has allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to remain within the diocese ministry. So far the diocese has named eight priests it says have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Yet The Spokesman-Review, which obtained the confidential claims filed in the case, said a review of about half of the claims showed at least 38 priests and others with ties to the church have been accused.

The list includes at least three priests still active in the ministry, while some are outside the parish or are Jesuits and thus outside the jurisdiction of the diocese, the newspaper reported Saturday.

The Spokesman-Review has filed a motion in bankruptcy court asking for formal access to claims and related filings, plus records of the amounts paid on claims. The paper said it has has never sought to publish the names or other identifying information of alleged victims and has asked that such information be redacted from the claims it seeks.

Former U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer has been named independent claims reviewer. She must determine whether claims have merit and how much victims should be paid.

Cross said Pflaumer's decisions have "no binding effect legally on the truth of the allegations." The diocese's own review board retains authority on whether a priest has been "credibly accused," Cross and Arpin said.

Jim Stang, an attorney representing a group of victims, helped craft the settlement and claims process, and said any victim dissatisfied with a diocese decision not to publicly name an abusive priest has the right to file a grievance.

"If Kate Pflaumer, the former U.S. Attorney in Seattle, says something happened with a priest and there is an exchange of money, it would be hard to argue his name should not be publicized," Stang said.

In March 2002, Skylstad reported there were a handful of sex abuse issues in the diocese, saying most had been settled and would remain private. Within months, however, Skylstad and the diocese were swamped with dozens of allegations involving many priests. The diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2004, as it faced legal actions from 59 people claiming abuse. Today the total number of abuse claims exceeds 180.

Parishoners have been asked to raise $10 million of the $48 million settlement.

Gary Graham, The Spokesman-Review's managing editor, decried "the relentless commitment to secrecy from the diocese and all of the lawyers involved."

"It seems to us that the victims, the parishioners who have to pay for the multimillion-dollar settlement of claims, and the public have a legitimate reason to be adequately informed and warned about who these predators are, especially in the case of those who still may be serving the church," Graham said.

Cross said the paper was "making itself the judge and jury, in addition to the prosecutor, without waiting for the outcome of the court's decision because it probably realizes it would lose in court."

Lawyers for the diocese and victims said they would file objections to the newspaper's motion for access to sealed court records by Wednesday.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

These Preachers/Pastors/Priests/Ministers Need to be Behind Bars just like any other Child Raping Predator and on the Child Molestor Published Databases, where they must notify the police and the public of where they live!

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