Sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Portland

The sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon in the United States is an important chapter in the series of Catholic sex abuse cases in the United States. During its course in July 2004, the archdiocese under Archbishop John George Vlazny filed for bankruptcy.

Thomas Laughlin[]

In 1983, local priest Thomas Laughlin was sentenced to a year in prison for charges of sex abuse.[1] Laughlin, who was accused of molesting several boys between 1972 and 1983,[1] served his one year sentence in Multnomah County prison.[2] A lawsuit also resulted in him being removed from ministry and ordered to undergo therapy.[3] However, he was not officially defrocked until 1988.[4] By 2007, it was estimated that the Diocese had paid $20.7 million to 34 victims of Laughlin.[1]

Bankruptcy and Settlements[]

In August 2000, the Archdiocese of Portland was hit by a $4 million lawsuit by men who stated they had been molested by Archdiocese priest Rev. Aldo Carlo Orso-Manzonetta.[5] In October 2000, the Archdiocese was hit by another lawsuit, this time amounting to $44 million, by men who stated they had been molested by Archdiocese priest Rev. Maurice Grammond between 1950 and 1974.[6]

The Archdiocese of Portland filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on July 6, 2004. Portland became the first Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy.[7]

An open letter to the archdiocese's parishioners explained the archbishop's motivation:[8]

This is not an effort to avoid responsibility. It is, in fact, the only way I can assure that other claimants can be offered fair compensation. We have worked diligently to settle claims of clergy misconduct. In the last four years, we have settled more than 100 such claims. Last year alone the Archdiocese paid almost $21 million from its own funds. Major insurers have abandoned us and are not paying what they should on the claims.
Two cases are set for trials beginning today. One plaintiff seeks more than $130 million in compensatory and punitive damages, the other $25 million. We have made every effort to settle these claims fairly but the demand of each of these plaintiffs remains in the millions. I am committed to just compensation. These demands go beyond compensation. With 60 other claims pending, I cannot in justice and prudence pay the demands of these two plaintiffs.

The archdiocese had settled more than one hundred previous claims for a sum of over $53 million prior to the filing seeks to protect parish assets, school money and trust funds from plaintiffs: the archdiocese's contention is[when?] that parish assets are not the archdiocese's assets. Plaintiffs in the cases against the archdiocese have argued that the Catholic Church is a single entity, and that the Vatican should be liable for any damages awarded in judgment of pending sexual abuse cases.[9][failed verification]

After the filing, an April 29, 2005 deadline was set by the bankruptcy court to allow other people to file complaints. According to an October 2005 archbishop's column in the Catholic Sentinel, nearly 200 more claims of all kinds were filed as a result. That column also noted that the archdiocese has filed suit against insurance companies to compel them to contribute financially to the settlement expected to arise out of the reorganization.

A press release issued by the Archdiocese of Portland on April 17, 2007 announced a settlement plan had been reached and a bankruptcy court had approved a financial plan of reorganization.[10] In 2018, Portland Archbishop Alexander King Sample acknowledged the history of sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Portland, which he described as an "institutional and spiritual" failure,[11] and issued an apology.[11] At the same time, it was reported that more than 100 sex abuse lawsuits were settled prior to the 2004 bankruptcy.[11]

Society of Jesus bankruptcy[]

In 2009, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus filed for bankruptcy as well.[12] As part of the bankruptcy agreement, the Oregon Province, which later merged with the California Province in 2017 to form the USA West Province, had to publicly disclose its list of Jesuit clergy with credible accusations of sex abuse.[13] This list was published in 2009, and was added to the West Province list which was made public in December 2018.[13] In 2011, the Oregon Jesuit Province agreed to pay $166.1 million in damages to nearly 500 sex abuse victims.[14]

Criticisms of Archbishop Levada[]

Some have criticized how Archbishop William Levada is alleged to have dealt with priests who had committed sexual abuse in Portland and in San Francisco.[15] Levada, who became Archbishop of Portland in 1986, earned criticism for protecting Orso-Manzonetta, who died in 1996 without ever facing trial, as well.[5][4] According to Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion rights lobbying group not affiliated with the Catholic Church, Levada "shielded a pedophile in the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, for approximately nine years, which helped lead to the bankruptcy of the diocese and earned the wrath of survivor groups for his actions on the Vatican’s commission to revise the US bishops’ sex abuse norms."[16]

Relationship with the Fairbanks diocesan scandal[]

The lawsuits in the Fairbanks diocese have also affected the Jesuit chapter in the diocese of Portland, given that the Western Province of the American Jesuits is located in the State of Oregon.[17][18]

2019 Settlement[]

In August 2019, the Archdiocese of Portland agreed to pay nearly $4 million to eight men who claimed they were sexually abused by Rev. Pius Brazaukus in the 1970s and the 1980s.[19][20]

See also[]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ Portland Archdiocese ends bankruptcy with $75 million settlement Archived 2013-04-08 at the Library of Congress Web Archives
  8. ^
  9. ^ Portland Archdiocese releases 20,000 documents on the priest sex abuse scandal Archived 2009-05-02 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Press release issued by the Archdiocese of Portland Archived 2007-07-02 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b c
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  13. ^ a b
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  15. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2003, online here Archived 2005-11-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "The Making of a Papacy: A Report on the First One Hundred Days of Pope Benedict XVI" (PDF). Catholics for a Free Choice. July 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-11-27. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  17. ^ More than 500 abuse victims’ claims filed in Jesuits’ Oregon Province bankruptcy case
  18. ^ Jesuits' Oregon province, facing abuse lawsuits, files for bankruptcy
  19. ^
  20. ^

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