San Diego priests asked to donate month’s salary

SAN DIEGO – San Diego Bishop Robert H. Brom has asked his priests to give up a month’s salary to help pay the diocese’s multimillion dollar settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In an Oct. 2 memo to priests, Bishop Brom also asked parish priests to request donations from their parishioners. Fundraising letters are to be sent out by the end of October; they will be in Spanish, English and perhaps Vietnamese.

On Sept. 7 the San Diego Diocese and the San Bernardino Diocese, which was split off from its southern neighbor in 1978, announced an agreement to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 people for abuse suffered between 1938 and 1993.

The San Diego Diocese at the time said the settlement “takes us beyond available resources and will result in some damaging consequences for the mission of the church in this diocese for a number of years.”

The Oct. 2 memo to priests said the diocesan board of deans had decided to “invite everyone in the Diocese of San Diego to make a generous contribution which (1) will help to cover the expense involved in compassionate outreach to our brothers and sisters who suffered sexual abuse within the family of the church, and (2) will allow us to continue the many other responsibilities we have which are also a part of our mission.”

The memo said the proposal to ask priests to contribute a month’s salary came from the priests’ council and that the deans themselves – the priests who head deaneries – had accepted the recommendation “since we cannot ask of others what we are unwilling to do ourselves.”

Under the settlement, the San Diego Diocese will pay $77 million and its insurer, Catholic Mutual, will cover another $75.7 million for a total of 111 cases. San Diego will pay another $30.2 million for 22 cases involving members of religious orders. A statement from the San Diego Diocese said it is hoped that at least part of that amount will be recovered from the religious orders.

The settlement also included 11 cases that will be covered by the San Bernardino Diocese and Catholic Mutual for $15.1 million.

Diocesan chancellor Rodrigo Valdivia told Catholic News Service Oct. 10 that a monthly salary for a priest in the diocese is about $1,500.

According to figures in the Official Catholic Directory, there are 183 San Diego diocesan priests; 113 of them are active in the diocese, 66 are no longer active and four serve outside the diocese. The diocese has 98 parishes and 16 mission churches.

Valdivia said response from the priests to the memo had been generally good, although there was “a smattering of negative” opinions about the request.

The memo also said that “everyone else in the diocese” should also be sent “a personal invitation” through their parishes, which will include a letter from Bishop Brom, a letter from their pastors and an envelope for response. The campaign is called “Embracing Our Mission.”

Some diocesan properties likely will be sold to help cover the cost of the settlement, Valdivia said, although it is still early in the process for the diocese to figure out which properties will be made available. He said the sites of two high schools – both of which have been reopened in new locations – top the list of parcels likely to be sold. One is in the choice real estate location of Linda Vista/Mission Valley, he said.

In February 2007 the San Diego Diocese filed for bankruptcy protection hours before a trial was to begin in one of the first lawsuits alleging that the church was responsible for sexual abuse by priests. This summer the judge in the bankruptcy case threatened to throw out the bankruptcy case if the church didn’t reach an agreement with the plaintiffs.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.