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In Effort To Restore Trust, Catholic Diocese Shares Financial Reports

San Bernardino Officials Open Up Following Scandal

Nov 27, 2002 | The Desert Sun

Catholic priests and parishioners on Tuesday received an unprecedented view into the finances of one of the nation’s largest dioceses.

Diocese of San Bernardino leaders called the meetings in an attempt to rebuild trust in a church shaken by sexual abuse scandals.

"This is a journey together," said diocese spokesman Father Howard Lincoln. "We want to restore any trust that has been lost because of the sexual scandals that have been prevalent in the news this year."

Such scandal has reached the nation’s 12th largest diocese, which encompasses 27,300 square miles in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The diocese has paid out more than $665,000 in settlements of five cases for sexual abuse of minors in its 24-year history. Of the five cases, three involved priests and two involved lay people, Lincoln said.

Nearly all of the cash was paid out by insurance, officials said. The diocese paid about $6,800 in counseling costs for those who said they were abused.

In three other cases, the diocese was subpoenaed, Lincoln said.

Despite the controversy, diocesan officials say contributions are up 10 percent from last year’s $2.8 million.

Open forums like Tuesday’s are planned to coincide with future reports, Lincoln said.

"These meetings are about maintaining a climate of openness and trust in this diocese," said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes in a prepared statement before the meetings. "It is critical that we face the challenges of the future financial or otherwise together."

Officials discussed the released financial statements and auditors’ reports for the last fiscal year with clergy, religious leaders and lay people, but closed the afternoon meeting to reporters.

Earlier this year during the height of the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, diocesan leaders went through personnel records to discover allegations against 20 of its priests and reported the results to police.

The San Bernardino diocese also weathered charges against a former priest, the Rev. Patrick O’Keeffe, that resurfaced in August.

Similar allegations were raised that same month against the Rev. Saul Ayala of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mecca.

The alleged misconduct stemmed from allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct with a minor made 20 years ago.

But those who filed into the Bernardine Room at the Diocese of San Bernardino Tuesday afternoon for the first of the two meetings also found a diocese swamped by rampant growth and struggling by on what church leaders called a "paycheck-by-paycheck existence," compared to other Southland dioceses.

The diocese is one of the fastest growing in the country, quadrupling in size to more than 1 million Catholics since its inception in 1978.

Lincoln cited the relative affordability of housing in the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley compared to other areas in Southern California as a reason for the growth.

It is also one of the poorest dioceses with a budget of roughly $7.5 million and $1.1 million in reserves.

By comparison, the neighboring and smaller Diocese of Orange has reserves of nearly $122 million, Diocese of San Bernardino officials said, citing the National Conference of Bishops.

Growth projections will not ease the burden, Lincoln cautioned, and the diocese does not receive support from larger church networks, he added.

"The Diocese of San Bernardino is essentially its own financial island," he said.

What that has meant for the diocese is a lack of priests to minister to parishioners and a need for more or larger churches.

In 1978, the diocese had one priest for every 1,540 parishioners, records stated. Today, priests are stretched ever further with one priest for every 6,000 Catholics in the San Bernardino diocese.

"The bishop says this is going to continue," Lincoln said. "How are you going to serve them?"

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