Embattled N.S. diocese resists fire sale to raise funds for abuse settlement

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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SYDNEY, N.S. - The embattled Diocese of Antigonish has the assets to raise $18 million to compensate victims of sexual abuse, but the Roman Catholic Church will not engage in a "fire sale," a spokesman for the diocese says.
Rev. Paul Abbass confirmed that parishes in the rural diocese have been told everything is on the auction block, with the exception of "core assets," including churches and their rectories.
"We will not be putting our properties up just to get rid of them,"Abbass told the Cape Breton Post. "In this market, whatever area it is, these are properties that we feel we can get fair value for."
Church lands, unoccupied homes and associated church halls face possible liquidation.
Last year, a historic $15-million class-action settlement was reached to compensate dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the 1950s after a lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the Halifax archdiocese.
But Abbass said the church now hopes to raise $18.5 million because six claimants have come forward with private lawsuits.
The settlement will still provide $12 million to victims who claimed abuse at the hands of priests in the Antigonish diocese between 1950 and September 2009. Another $3.5 million has been set aside for legal fees and related costs.
If the total cost goes any higher, the Diocese of Antigonish could face bankruptcy, Abbass said.
"If we can't reach the $18.5 million, then the risk to us is insolvency, which means that we don't have any control over what we hold on to. That is the piece that we will certainly do everything we can to avoid."
Following the signing of the settlement agreement in August, the diocese turned to the banks for bridge financing until some assets could be liquidated.
But that financing evaporated when the man who brokered the settlement, Bishop Raymond Lahey, was charged with possession of child pornography in September.
"Everything shifted when the charges against Bishop Lahey were laid because the goodwill, a lot of people felt really betrayed by that. A lot of people felt there was a certain hypocrisy involved there."
The church is in the midst of pooling all of its available cash and investments from the diocese and its parishes. A catalogue of non-core properties is being produce and the first real estate holdings will be put on the market within months.
Abbass said the process of selling assets could take up to three years.
Parishes must turn over liquid assets accumulated up to Feb. 28, 2009, with the exception of a parish's cemetery fund and $10,000 for operational costs.

Organizations: Roman Catholic Church, Cape Breton Post

Geographic location: Antigonish, SYDNEY

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