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Judge Bars Oregon Bishop From Transferring Assets Under Threat of Sex-Abuse Lawsuit

Feb 3, 2003 | AP A judge on Monday barred the Roman Catholic Bishop for Eastern Oregon from transferring diocese assets to individual churches while facing nearly $70 million in claims for alleged sexual abuse by a priest.

David Slader, attorney for the 18 plaintiffs, argued that Bishop Robert Vasa's plan to distribute the assets was an attempt to avoid the claims. He said Judge Michael Adler's ruling could set a precedent.

"Oregon is the test case the church is using for this asset protection strategy," he said.

The 18 men are plaintiffs in a $60.8 million lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baker alleging the late Rev. David Hazen sexually abused them as boys in the 1950s and 1960s.

Slader said tax records showed property held by the diocese was assessed at $19 million.

Vasa says since taking over the diocese three years ago he has been working to transfer ownership of properties to the individual churches that use them, and never intended to avoid any future liabilities.

"These assets are not being dissipated. They are simply going to their rightful legal owner," said Greg Lynch, the diocese's attorney. "Don't get persuaded by the profound horror of the acts alleged to have occurred decades ago."

The judge temporarily banned transfers by the diocese. A hearing on a permanent injunction is not expected for several months.

Elsewhere:

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law answered more questions under oath in his eighth day of testimony in the civil case against the Rev. Paul Shanley, 71, who is accused of sexually abusing children. The plaintiffs say church officials were negligent in their handling of abuse allegations against Shanley and other priests.

A Baltimore priest who refused to testify against the man who shot him has been denied reimbursement of almost $15,000 in medical and other expenses related to the shooting.

Maryland's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board denied the claim last month, noting that the Rev. Maurice Blackwell didn't cooperate during the trial. Blackwell's lawyer said he is appealing the decision.

Dontee Stokes, who told police he shot Blackwell because of sexual abuse, was acquitted of attempted murder.

In New York, a priest accused of fondling an altar girl testified that she once sat on his knee for several minutes, but no abuse occurred. Last week, the alleged victim, now 16, told the jury that the Rev. Francis Nelson fondled her in 1999 while visiting her grandmother's apartment.

A priest from suburban St. Louis was sentenced to 90 days in a halfway house, placed on five years probation and fined $5,000 for a charge of receiving obscenity through his computer. The Rev. John Hess., 57, pleaded guilty in May and has been removed from his parish.

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