Eighteen men seeking $69 million from the Roman Catholic diocese for Eastern Oregon over allegations of sexual abuse by a priest have filed a new lawsuit that extends their claims to the 62 individual churches in the region.
Filed Friday in Klamath County Circuit Court in Klamath Falls, the new lawsuit was brought after a Deschutes County circuit judge in Bend allowed Bishop Robert Vasa to transfer assets held by the diocese to individual churches before the sexual-abuse claims are resolved. The Diocese of Baker is headquartered in Bend, which also is where the original lawsuit was filed.
The new action alleges that Vasa and the individual churches acted fraudulently and illegally when he created new corporations covering the churches, then transferred to them assets such as church buildings and lands estimated at more than $19 million. The new lawsuit charges that such an action left the diocese without significant assets to cover damages sought in the abuse lawsuit.
â€œThere is no satisfaction in this step, but we cannot allow Bishop Vasa to duck accountability by claiming a false and sudden poverty,â€� an attorney for the alleged victims, said in a statement.
Prior to the transfers, Vasa estimated diocese assets of $11.5 million, plus $6 million in cash and potential insurance.
In the original lawsuit, the 18 men allege that they were sexually abused in the 1950s and 1960s by the late Rev. David Hazen and that the diocese sent Hazen back to local churches after learning that he was a sexual predator. Most of the cases were in Klamath County, where Hazen was a priest at St. Pius X Church, the new suit alleges.
Plaintiffs have submitted as evidence a confession signed by Hazen and a pledge of secrecy signed by a former altar boy promising the diocese he would never divulge the abuse.
Plaintiffs claim that the late Bishop Francis Leipzig sent Hazen to Milwaukee, Wis., for treatment, and after a year assigned him without supervision to Klamath Falls, where he continued to molest boys for 10 years.