The following message by Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire was read aloud during all Masses from Lodi to Turlock on Saturday and Sunday:
By now, most of you will have seen (last) week’s newspaper and television news stories about our diocese and the difficult financial situation we face. I want, however, to address this topic with you directly and bring you up to date on where things stand and what lies ahead.
(Last) week, our diocese reached a negotiated settlement that brings an end to a lawsuit arising from sexual abuse by Oliver O’Grady in the 1980s. The man who brought the suit was a boy of 10 or 11 when this abuse occurred, and he suffered greatly as a result of it. It is my hope that this settlement helps him continue to heal. He, and all victims of sexual abuse, must be in our prayers always.
This most recent agreement brings the total our diocese has paid in judgments, settlements and legal costs to more than $15 million over the past 20 years. Of this amount, more than $6 million has been paid in the last three years alone.
Since my arrival as your bishop 14 years ago, I have tried to settle these cases when possible and to heal the deep wounds caused to our church and our diocese by the evil of sexual abuse. I hope that we will be seen to have treated victims fairly.
But today, the cash reserves from which these payments are made are all but gone. The money that remains for handling these cases is a small fraction of what is needed to face pending lawsuits as well as any new claims. This is a very serious situation.
There is widespread speculation that our diocese eventually will have to seek protection in a bankruptcy court in order to continue the work that it does. At this point, no decision has been made about how we will go forward and how we will meet our obligations.
It is natural that you would have questions at a time like this. Perhaps the first question you may have is what this means for your parish. The parishes of our diocese are separate corporations — whatever decisions are made by the diocese, they will not impact the solvency or operations of the parishes. To me, this is right and fair. The hard work you have done to build and run your parish should not be jeopardized by the actions or inactions of the diocese in decades past.
While it is too early to tell exactly what decisions will be made, I can tell you this: the situation we face requires that we examine every one of the options available to us and understand all our alternatives. This is a very serious situation, and I want to be sure that we have every idea on the table and leave nothing unexamined.
What’s more, I commit to you that decisions will be made only after wide consultation with the many parties involved.
Our diocese is a community of believers. We are a family of people and parishes. In times of difficulty, such as those we face now, families come together and talk things through. This is what I intend to do in the weeks and months ahead.
We will keep you informed of what we are doing and where this process leads us. We will communicate with you on a regular basis.
Thank you for your support and your prayers. They are especially important at this critical time. Please know that you are always in my prayers.
Sincerely yours in Christ, Bishop Stephen Blaire