WILMINGTON – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington filed for bankruptcy protection just hours before eight clergy sex-abuse trials were set to begin yesterday – the first wave in dozens of cases against its priests that, by diocesan estimates, could cost it $100 million to $500 million.
In 2007, the Delaware legislature enacted a special two-year moratorium on the statute of limitations, allowing adult victims of sex abuse to sue for assaults perpetrated even decades ago. By the time the moratorium closed last July, 142 plaintiffs had filed lawsuits against the Wilmington diocese, which comprises Delaware and nine counties in eastern Maryland.
The diocese asked for Chapter 11 protection about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. In addition to the eight in Kent County Superior Court, 22 trials were scheduled to start in the weeks ahead. All have been temporarily halted.
In an open letter to the diocese’s 230,000 parishioners, Bishop W. Francis Malooly called bankruptcy a “painful decision” that he had hoped to avoid. However, he wrote, it would ensure that funds will be available for all victims, not just the first who go to trial.
A state bankruptcy court is to decide how much money the diocese must make available for settlements.
In its filing, the diocese claimed assets of $50 million to $100 million.
“It was clear to us in our negotiations that the amount of money that was being sought by the early victims and the finite amount that we had . . . was not going to work,” Malooly said at a news conference yesterday.
Thomas Neuberger, a Wilmington lawyer representing 88 plaintiffs against the diocese and two Catholic high schools, yesterday denounced the filing as a “fraudulent tactic” designed to hide the hierarchy’s “complicity in the sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children.”
Several suits also name two religious orders, the Norbertines and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and charge that their members abused students at high schools they operate within the diocese.
Only the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Inc. is seeking reorganization under Chapter 11. Its parishes are legally distinct corporations under state law, although a state superior court is due to rule on whether parish property can be included as part of the diocese’s assets.
Wilmington is the seventh Roman Catholic diocese in the United States to seek bankruptcy protection this decade in the face of massive numbers of sex-abuse lawsuits. The others are Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz.
In those dioceses, cases of clergy sex abuse did proceed to trial. In Spokane and Fairbanks, the lawsuits were settled for an average of $400,000, according to James Stang, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Pachulski, Stang, Ziehl & Jones. In San Diego, the average payout was $1.4 million.
Stang, whose firm has worked on behalf of plaintiffs in six of the bankrupt dioceses, said a diocese might file for bankruptcy to “stop a public trial” that could reveal information it wants concealed.
Wilmington, he said, “could have let the trials proceed and filed [for bankruptcy] if they got adverse verdicts.”
Dioceses also file for Chapter 11 so the court will cap current and future abuse claims against it, Stang said. “Then if someone comes forward with a valid claim, the diocese can say, ‘You have to look to this pot of money.’ ”
Although plaintiffs might feel frustrated by the diocese’s decision to file bankruptcy just as their cases were starting to be heard, he said, the proceedings will force the church to reveal “all its assets and liabilities.”
In his letter to parishioners, Malooly wrote that the Wilmington filing was “in no way intended to dodge responsibility for past criminal misconduct by clergy – or for mistakes made by Diocesan authorities” and would not minimize its responsibility to abuse victims.
Bob Krebs, diocesan spokesman, said yesterday that since 2002 the Wilmington diocese had settled eight abuse cases for a total of $6.2 million.
Some Catholics interviewed in Wilmington yesterday said they had misgivings about the bankruptcy.
“It’s wrong to hide stuff,” said Debra Pasquarella, 41. Rosario Serrano, 35, said she believed the church had the financial resources needed to pay abuse victims.
But Anthony Cattermoul, 68, a Welshman who attended Wilmington Friends School and was back for a 50th reunion, said he thought American juries too easily award multimillion-dollar verdicts.
“If the settlements were reasonable, they wouldn’t have to declare bankruptcy,” said Cattermoul, mayor of Mold in North Wales.
Delaware is only the second state to enact a moratorium or “window” on its statute of limitations for child sex-abuse cases. Krebs, the diocesan spokesman, said yesterday that the Wilmington hierarchy was taken “completely by surprise” by the response from plaintiffs.
Proportionally, it exceeds the surge experienced in California. In 2002, the legislature there created a one-year statute window. During 2003, the year of the moratorium, about 1,000 people statewide came forward claiming they had been molested as children; about 850 named priests or religious orders of the Catholic Church.
John Salveson, president of the Philadelphia-based Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, said yesterday that efforts to enact a similar statute moratorium in Pennsylvania are “nearly stalled” in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that a similar measure in the New York legislature has “broad support.”
Religious row as Orthodox Jewish couple sue neighbours for ‘imprisoning’ them with automatic hallway light
A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours in a block of flats, saying an automatic security light is keeping them prisoner in their home because it forces them to break their Sabbath rules.
Dr Dena Coleman and husband Gordon claim they cannot leave their holiday flat on the Sabbath because when they do they automatically trigger the light in the communal hallway – contravening a religious ban on turning on electrical items from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday because it constitutes ‘creating fire’.
They say their human rights are being breached and are now suing the flats’ management company – their neighbours – for failing to accommodate their religion.
The other 35 owners of the seaside flats are liable to pay court costs if the claim is successful.
Dr Coleman, a 56-year-old headteacher at a Jewish orthodox school in London, has been visiting the £200,000 holiday flat in Bournemouth, Dorset, with her husband for six years.
The management company fitted the motion-sensing lights six months ago in a bid to save energy and money.
The Colemans have offered to pay for an override switch to disable the light sensors during the Sabbath.
But the Embassy Court Management Company – which represents all residents and whose three directors also live in the block – said this would set an ‘unacceptable precedent’.
In a letter sent to occupants of all of the other 35 apartments in the block, the Colemans said: ‘Faced with a situation where we could never again have full use of our flat, we were left with no alternative but to seek legal advice.’
The couple said they would drop the case if an override switch was installed and the management company paid their legal costs and compensation.
The argument has sparked controversy between the other residents.
One resident, who did not want to be named, said: ‘It has caused quite a stir here, there have been a lot of arguments.
‘There has been a meeting about it and many of the residents aren’t happy.
‘There’s a feeling that things shouldn’t be changed just to suit people in one flat when everyone else is happy with it.
‘I don’t think the rest of us would think twice about the lights but they’re going to great lengths to get it changed so they must feel very strongly about it.’
The couple say they only moved into the flat in spring 2003 on the understanding that movement sensors would never be installed in communal areas.
They have now issued a county court writ against the management company, saying they have discriminated against them on the grounds of religion.
The claim also accuses the company of breaching their rights under the Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998.
In a statement the company said: ‘The directors believe that almost all lessees at Embassy Court support the actions taken by the management company to reduce communal lighting electricity costs, and to reduce repair and maintenance costs by preventing heat damage to light fittings and prolonging their life.
‘The directors further believe that almost all lessees support the installation of movement sensor controls in the hallways and have no personal problems with their installations.
‘Unfortunately correspondence between directors and lessees concerned failed to resolve the dispute.
‘Clearly the lessees [the Colemans] felt so strongly that their rights may have been infringed by the management company that they decided to take legal action. That is their prerogative.
‘A key allegation in this claim is that the movement sensors installed in the hallway discriminate against the claimants, who are orthodox Jews, on the grounds of their religion and belief.
‘The lessees also allege in the claim that when they purchased their flat in the spring of 2003 it was on the basis of assurances from selling agents that that movement sensors would not be installed at Embassy Court.
‘Although other lessees are innocent parties in this legal dispute, in accordance with the lease, the Management Company’s expenses reasonably incurred in these legal proceedings with be recoverable from all lessees in the service charge, to the extent that these expenses are not paid by the other parties to the proceedings.’
The case is due to be heard at Bournemouth County Couty later this year.
Dr Coleman is the headteacher at Yavneh College in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, the author of several books on education.
Life grows more interesting by the day for officials of the West Bend (Wis.) Community Memorial Library. After four months of grappling with an evolving challenge to young-adult materials deemed sexually explicit by area residents Ginny and Jim Maziarka, library trustees voted 9–0 June 2 to maintain the young-adult collection as is “without removing, relocating, labeling, or otherwise restricting access” to any titles. However, board members were made cognizant that same evening that another material challenge waited in the wings: Milwaukee-area citizen Robert C. Braun of the Christian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) distributed at the meeting copies of a claim for damages he and three other plaintiffs filed April 28 with the city; the complainants seek the right to publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop. The claim also demands $120,000 in compensatory damages ($30,000 per plaintiff) for being exposed to the book in a library display, and the resignation of West Bend Mayor Kristine Deiss for “allow[ing] this book to be viewed by the public.”
The unanimous vote rejecting the Maziarkas’ challenge came after trustees heard several dozen comments for and against restricting the materials, as well as being presented with opposing petitions: 700 signatures on the petition circulated by West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, a group formed by the Maziarkas, and more than 1,000 on an anti-restriction petition from the newly formed West Bend Parents for Free Speech. Ironically, four of the trustees were denied reappointment in April as a rebuke from city council members for adhering to the library’s reconsideration process instead of complying immediately with the Maziarkas’ changing reconsideration requests. The trustees are serving until their successors are appointed.
Accusing the board of submitting to the will of the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginny Maziarka declared, “We vehemently reject their standards and their principles,” and characterized the debate as “a propaganda battle to maintain access to inappropriate material.” She cautioned that her group would let people know that the library was not a safe place unless it segregated and labeled YA titles with explicit content. However, after the meeting board President Barbara Deter emphasized that it was the couple’s “freedom of speech” to challenge any individual library holding, according to the June 3 Greater Milwaukee Today.
For the immediate future, West Bend officials will be dealing with the CCLU’s legal claim. Describing the YA novel by celebrated author Francesca Lia Block as “explicitly vulgar, racial, and anti-Christian,” the complaint by Braun, Joseph Kogelmann, Rev. Cleveland Eden, and Robert Brough explains that “the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” specifically because Baby Be-Bop contains the “n” word and derogatory sexual and political epithets that can incite violence and “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”
The complaint points out that library Director Michael Tyree has “publicly stated that it is not up to the library to tell the community what is appropriate.” Citing “Wisconsin’s sexual morality law,” the plaintiffs also request West Bend City Attorney Mary Schanning to impanel a grand jury to examine whether the book should be declared obscene and making it available a hate crime.
LINCOLN, Neb. – A judge has thrown out a Nebraska legislator’s lawsuit against God, saying the Almighty wasn’t properly served due to his unlisted home address.filed the lawsuit last year seeking a permanent injunction against God.
He said God has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents in Omaha, inspired fear and caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”
Chambers has said he filed the lawsuit to make the point that everyone should have access to the courts regardless of whether they are rich or poor.
On Tuesday, however, Douglas County District Court Judge Marlon Polk ruled that under state law a plaintiff must have access to the defendant for a lawsuit to move forward.
“Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant this action will be dismissed with prejudice,” Polk wrote.
Chambers, who graduated from law school but never took the bar exam, thinks he’s found a hole in the judge’s ruling.
“The court itself acknowledges the existence of God,” Chambers said Wednesday. “A consequence of that acknowledgment is a recognition of God’s omniscience.”
Therefore, Chambers said, “Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit.”
Chambers has 30 days to decide whether to appeal. He said he hasn’t decided yet.
Chambers, who has served a record 38 years in the Nebraska Legislature, is not returning next year because of term limits. He skips morning prayers during the legislative session and often criticizes Christians.
MADISON, Wis. (AP) â€” The nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics is suing President Bush, the governor of Wisconsin and other officials over the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Friday in U.S. district court, arguing that the president’s mandated proclamations calling on Americans to pray violates a constitutional ban on government officials endorsing religion.
The day of prayer, held each year on the first Thursday of May, creates a “hostile environment for nonbelievers, who are made to feel as if they are political outsiders,” the lawsuit said.
The national proclamation issued this year asked God’s blessings on our country and called for Americans to observe the day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle is named in the suit because he is one of 50 governors who issued proclamations calling for the prayer day. The foundation is based in Madison.
Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, and White House press secretary Dana Perino also are named.
The foundation has filed numerous lawsuits in recent years, including one rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court last year that attacked President Bush’s faith-based initiative.
The White House and Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner had no comment on the lawsuit. A message seeking comment from the task force was not returned Friday.
You don’t have to ask, she did it for religious reasons.
PONCE DE LEON – When a high school senior told her principal that students were taunting her for being a lesbian, he told her homosexuality is wrong, outed her to her parents and ordered her to stay away from children.
He suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at Ponce de Leon High School, according to court records. And he asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students.
The American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued the district on behalf of a girl who protested against Principal David Davis, and a federal judge reprimanded Davis for conducting a “witch hunt” against gays. Davis was demoted, and school employees must now go through sensitivity training.
And despite all that, many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.
“We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong,” said Steve Griffin, Holmes County’s school superintendent, who keeps a Bible on his desk and framed Scriptures on his office walls.
Holmes County, on the Alabama line, has about 20,000 residents. There is some agriculture, but most people are employed either by prisons or schools; some commute to the Gulf Coast to work in tourism. Ponce de Leon, with fewer than 500 residents, has a cafe, a post office and an antique store.
Many in the community support Davis and feel outsiders are forcing their beliefs on them. Griffin, who kicked Davis out of the principal’s office but allowed him to continue teaching at the school, said high schoolers here aren’t exposed to the same things as kids in Atlanta or Chicago.
“I don’t think we are that different from a lot of districts, at least in the Panhandle, that have beliefs that maybe are different from societal changes,” Griffin said.
Gay rights activists said that’s no excuse for what Davis did.
The problems began last fall when Davis, who did not return phone messages from The Associated Press, admonished the senior, who is identified only as “Jane Doe” in court records and whose friends say she doesn’t want to talk about the experience.
The friends donned gay pride T-shirts and rainbow-colored clothing when they found out how Davis had treated her, and he questioned many of them about their sexuality and association with gay students. Some were suspended.
“Davis embarked on what can only be characterized as a ‘witch hunt’ to identify students who were homosexual and their supporters, further adding fuel to the fire,” U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak recounted in his ruling. “He went so far as to lift the shirts of female students to insure the letters ‘GP’ or the words ‘Gay Pride’ were not written on their bodies.”
Heather Gillman, an 11th-grader who took part in the protests, complained to her mother, Ardena, a 40-year-old corrections officer and mother of three. Ardena Gillman called the ACLU, even though she knew people would be angry.
“I just felt like I had to stand up for the kids. Heather wanted to do this, and I had to back her,” she said.
Ardena hoped to protect the students’ freedom of speech – whether it was the freedom to wear Confederate flag T-shirts to show Southern pride or the freedom to wear rainbow T-shirts to support gay rights.
Courts have repeatedly ruled that similar student protests are constitutional as long as they are not disruptive.
“I think a shirt that says ‘I support gays’ is very different from a shirt that says ‘Gays are going to hell,'” said Benjamin Stevenson, an ACLU attorney. “One can be very disruptive for a child’s self-esteem; the other supports other people and their ideas.”
Ardena Gillman also knew some of the students would need to learn to be tolerant.
“What happens when these kids get out in the real world after they leave Ponce de Leon and they have a black, homosexual supervisor at their job?” she said.
The ACLU sued in January, and Smoak ruled this summer that Davis violated Heather Gillman’s rights.
“I emphasize that Davis’s personal and religious views about homosexuality are not issues in this case. Indeed, Davis’s opinions and views are consistent with the beliefs of many in Holmes County, in Florida, and in the country,” Smoak wrote in an opinion released last month. “Where Davis went wrong was when he endeavored to silence the opinions of his dissenters.”
As Ardena Gillman suspected, the lawsuit created hard feelings in town.
A Wal-Mart worker yelled at her, accusing her of trying to “bankrupt” the school district, which was ordered to pay $325,000 in ACLU attorney fees. One of her friends has refused to talk to her because the lawsuit conflicted with the woman’s religious beliefs.
Others flatly hail Davis as a hero.
“David Davis is a fine man and good principal, and we are a gentle, peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community,” said Bill Griffin, 73 and a lifelong Ponce de Leon resident who is no relation to the district superintendent. “We aren’t out to tar and feather anyone.”
The lawsuit could reflect a division between the high school students who have grown up in an era of gay tolerance and the community’s elders, said Gary Scott, a school board member.
“But I think that’s less of an issue here than in Miami or Minnesota,” he said.
The judge’s scathing rebuke left Scott questioning how his community’s beliefs could be so different from the judge’s opinion.
“I guess I didn’t realize we were this bad,” Scott said.
JUNCTION CITY, Kansas (AP) — Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism.
But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging that he’s been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn’t believe in God. The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“I’m not in it for cash,” Hall said. “I want no one else to go what I went through.”
Known as “the atheist guy,” Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and — just as severe to some soldiers — gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.
“I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That’s what I believe everyone else should see,” he said.
Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school. It wasn’t until he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding that he couldn’t follow any faith.
But he feared how that would look to other soldiers.
“I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist,” Hall said.
It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.
“I said, ‘No, but I believe in Plexiglas,’ ” Hall said. “I’ve never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I’m worm food.”
The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall’s allegations.
TOPEKA, Kan. – A soldier claimed Wednesday that his promotion was blocked because he had claimed in a lawsuit that the Army was violating his right to be an atheist.
Attorneys for Spc. Jeremy Hall and therefiled the federal lawsuit Wednesday in ., and added a complaint alleging that the blocked promotion was in response to the legal action.
The suit was filed in September but dropped last month so the new allegations could be included. Among the defendants are.
Hall alleges he was denied his constitutional right to hold a meeting to discuss atheism while he was deployed inwith his military police unit. He says in the new complaint that his promotion was blocked after the commander of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley sent an e-mail post-wide saying Hall had sued.
Fort Riley spokeswoman Alison Kohler said the post “can’t comment on ongoing legal matters” and offered no further statement.
According to the lawsuit, Hall was counseled by his platoon sergeant after being informed that his promotion was blocked. He says the sergeant explained that Hall would be “unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops” and would have trouble bonding with them if promoted to a leadership position.
Hall responded that religion is not a requirement of leadership, even though the sergeant wondered how he had rights if atheism wasn’t a religion. Hall said atheism is protected under the Army’s chaplain’s manual.
“It shouldn’t matter if one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney whose firm filed the lawsuit. “In the military, all are equal and to be considered equal.”
Maj. Freddy J. Welborn was named in the lawsuit as the officer who prevented Hall from holding a meeting of atheists and non-Christians. It alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his re-enlistment. Welborn has denied the allegations.
The lawsuit alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and in which activities by Christian organizations are sanctioned.
Hall’s attorneys say Fort Riley has permitted a culture promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic sentiment, including posters quoting conservative columnistand sale of a book, “A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,” at the post exchange.
has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms, but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the religious freedom foundation, said the lawsuit would show the “almost incomprehensible national security risks to America” posed by the military’s pattern of violating the religious freedom of those in uniform.
“It is beyond despicable, indeed wholly unlawful, that theis actively attempting to destroy the professional career of one of its decorated young fighting soldiers, with two completed combat tours in , simply because he had the rare courage to stand up for his constitutional rights,” Weinstein said in a statement.
Weinstein previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.
Â Err, I think England needs to revise their laws, this is law that you should only see in a Theocracy.
A Christian group trying to prosecute the producer and broadcaster of Jerry Springer – The Opera under blasphemy laws will take its case to the high court in London today.
Christian Voice wants to bring a case against Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, and Jonathan Thoday, producer of the award-winning musical, for blasphemous libel, but was refused permission by City of Westminster magistrates court. The group is hoping to launch what would be only the third prosecution in more than 80 years for an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The last successful prosecution was brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, about a Roman soldier’s homosexual love for Christ. The human rights group Liberty, which has been allowed to intervene in the high court judicial review, says the law is outdated and argues that free speech rights must protect sacred, profane and secular language alike.