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Portland seeks abuse suit deadline.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a bid to learn who has undisclosed claims against it, the Portland archdiocese has proposed a Dec. 31 deadline for victims of sexual abuse to name themselves and provide details of their ordeals. In papers filed Aug. 19 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the archdiocese proposed a two-page "tort proof of claim" form. The archdiocese also outlined a plan to advertise the deadline in regional and national news media.

A church official and a lawyer characterized it as a necessary step to move the bankruptcy proceedings forward. Lawyers for victims roundly condemned the proposed form and media campaign as insensitive.

The archdiocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July in an effort to shield some of its assets from dozens of lawsuits that have already been filed. As the first Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy because of clergy abuse claims, the Portland case is being closely watched.

The norm in bankruptcy proceedings is to compile a list of those with claims against the debtor. But in many situations, the claims are not as emotionally sensitive as those involving sexual abuse: The proposed form asks for a claimant's name and address, dates and places of the abuse, the name of the abuser, descriptions of the abuse and the total amount of money the claimant seeks. It also seeks names of witnesses, confidants, therapists and lawyers.

"It is clearly intimidating," said David Slader, an attorney who has represented dozens of priest abuse plaintiffs. "Most abuse survivors are ultimately willing to publicly disclose their names, but that's a gradual process.

"To expect someone to suddenly put their name on the form, and all the details of their abuse, is absurd," he said, adding that few survivors are likely to take advantage of the process.

Bud Bunce, communications director for the archdiocese, said the proposed form is a working document that will be adjusted after consultations with other attorneys in the bankruptcy proceeding. It must be approved by Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris.
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Title Annotation:In The Beginning
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Sep 3, 2004
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