Judge overturns diocese contempt order

SPOKANE – A federal judge has reversed a contempt of court order against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, a rare victory for the diocese in the long-running legal action involving past sexual abuse by priests.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush said Monday that the contempt finding was erroneously ordered in February. His decision frees the diocese and its law firm from $52,000 in fees and costs. But the diocese still faces foreclosure on some parish property to pay sex abuse claims.

The recent problems arose after the diocese had to reopen its bankruptcy case last year to fight newly filed sex abuse claims that were far more than it anticipated. Many of the new claims were filed against priests and employees of the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, and involved abuse dating back decades.

The $1 million the diocese had set aside in its original bankruptcy settlement to pay such claims has already run out.