Pastors say parish settlement contribution small but significant

| July 10, 2018 | 0 Comments

When pastors were invited to consider contributing parish funds to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ settlement agreement with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, Father Jim Livingston didn’t hesitate to approach the leaders of his parish, the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, and ask them to discern an amount the parish could give.

They agreed to $50,000 — an amount that felt significant and also “hurt a little bit” in terms of the financial sacrifice.

“You can’t compare, obviously, the pain of the corporation giving out money to a soul that’s been wounded,” Father Livingston said, but he wanted the sum to seem “appropriate” in “responding to a lot of pain from real people.”

According to Father Kevin Finnegan, who encouraged other pastors and parish trustees to contribute to the settlement, more than half of the archdiocese’s 187 parishes have voluntarily pledged funds amounting to approximately $2.7 million to the archdiocese’s $210 million settlement.

“We’re all part of the same Church. We’re all part of the same body of Christ,” Father Livingston said of the Church of St. Paul’s decision to contribute to the settlement.

On May 31, the archdiocese announced it had reached a landmark joint settlement with attorneys representing abuse survivors. The archdiocese and the Unsecured Creditors Committee, which represents survivors in the bankruptcy proceedings, filed the joint plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court June 28.

As Archbishop Bernard Hebda and the archdiocese’s Reorganization Task Force Chairman Tom Abood outlined during a press conference May 31, more than $170 million of the settlement is funded by payments from the archdiocese’s insurers. The archdiocese and parishes are funding the other $40 million through additional cash contributions that include, in part, proceeds from property sales and reserves in an insurance fund and medical benefit plan.

The $40 million contribution breaks down as follows:

  • $8.8 million: Proceeds from the sale of four St. Paul properties on Cathedral Hill, including the archdiocese’s former chancery and archbishop’s residence, and a residence in Northfield.
  • $6 million: Excess reserves in the archdiocese’s general insurance fund for its central offices, parishes and other Catholic entities. The fund covers commercial property, casualty and general liability and workers’ compensation.
  • $5 million: An amount the archdiocese has pledged to contribute over the next five years.
  • $4.7 million: Unrestricted cash.
  • $4 million: Excess reserves of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Medical Benefit Plan, a trust fund that operates as a medical benefits plan for the health care of employees of the archdiocese, parishes and other Catholic entities. According to a June 15 letter from its trustees to trust participants, a third-party consultant determined that the fund could provide $4 million and still pay claims and maintain adequate reserves, based on past claims. The trustees agreed to contribute $4 million with the agreement that the rest of the funds would not be eligible for the settlement. In the June 15 letter, trustees said, “It was a very difficult decision as we had strongly advocated that the AMBP trust funds were to be used only for participant benefits,” but that the plan remains adequately funded.
  • $4 million: Proceeds from the sales of properties occupied by Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, and Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. The schools had previously been leasing the property long-term from the archdiocese for $1 per year.
  • $4 million: Board-designated funds, or funds previously directed by the archdiocese’s board of trustees toward certain purposes. These funds were contributed to the archdiocese — most of them decades ago — without clear donor intent. This includes the Riley Fund of $2.6 million that has long been used to assist the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul to pay off debt from major repairs through the years.  The Cathedral has consented to use of the Riley Fund to facilitate a global resolution.
  • $2.7 million: Voluntary parish contributions.
  • $550,000: Estimated funds from a pending estate settlement in which the archdiocese is a beneficiary, and potential excess deposits from the archdiocese’s workers compensation fund with the State of Minnesota.

Before a settlement agreement had been reached, Father Finnegan, pastor of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, and Father John Bauer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, reached out to fellow pastors and parish trustees to ask them to consider contributing to a settlement proposal. They facilitated a related meeting May 7 at Our Lady of Grace. Contributing parishes pledged funds through attorneys representing parishes in the bankruptcy proceedings.

The funds “express to those survivors who have been hurt by the Church that in a small way, I, we, the parish, can try to express our desire to stand with and support and encourage those who have been victimized,” said Father Finnegan, who said his parish is making a contribution but the amount is not public.

Our Lady of Grace was among the roughly 100 parishes that had claims of sexual abuse against priests or Catholic leaders who had served there. The settlement plan includes a channeling injunction that ends all litigation against the archdiocese, parishes and Catholic entities related to cases that are part of the archdiocese’s settlement.

That’s a relief, Father Finnegan said, because further litigation would stymie the parish’s ability to serve parishioners and do charitable work.

The total parish contribution amounts to less than 1.5 percent of the total settlement, but it’s important, said Father Daniel Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis.

“We’re all a part of the archdiocese, and [this is an] opportunity to be part of the solution,” he said. “It seemed to parish leadership to be the right thing to do.”

Father Griffith noted that Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Minneapolis, where he serves as parochial administrator, also plans to contribute to the plan.

“It was completely voluntary,” he emphasized.

Like St. Paul in Ham Lake, no claims of clergy sexual abuse were filed against Our Lady of Lourdes. Father Griffith said that parishes with claims may bear a greater share of the responsibility for offering financial restitution. However, like Father Livingston, he said that by contributing to the settlement, his parish is acknowledging a communal responsibility.

Our Lady of Lourdes is contributing $5,000 from its charity fund, an amount Father Griffith said the parish could afford. That “monetary justice,” he said, is connected to the parish’s other restorative justice efforts. Along with the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis and St. Joseph the Worker in Maple Grove, Our Lady of Lourdes is piloting healing circles and other efforts designed to bring healing to abuse survivors as well as other Catholics who are hurting from the abuse scandal.

The pastors interviewed for this story said their parishioners had been positive and magnanimous about the contributions. St. Paul’s parishioners were invited to make individual contributions, which Father Livingston said may add another $5,000 to $10,000 to the parish contribution.

The archdiocese entered Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in January 2015 to equitably settle what amounted to 453 claims of clergy sexual abuse, with two-thirds of claims from the 1960s and 1970s.

In a statement announcing the settlement plan’s June 28 filing, Abood said that the archdiocese would seek U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Kressel’s “guidance on the best ways to expedite confirmation of the plan consistent with bankruptcy requirements.”

“While the plan we have filed today may be modified and refined as we move toward confirmation in the coming months, we expect the final approved plan will be in substance what we have filed today,” Abood said.

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