Southern Dioceses Still Struggling to Recover

LOS ANGELES — Some Catholic dioceses in the South — especially the New Orleans Archdiocese and the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss. — are still a long way from recovering from the massive damage caused last summer by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the U.S. bishops were told June 15.

“They’re still flat on their backs,” said recently retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Task Force on Hurricane Recovery.

“Their process of recovery is barely begun,” he added in a report to the bishops on the first day of their June 15-17 national meeting in Los Angeles. He said the Diocese of Biloxi, which has only 70,000 Catholics, suffered $70 million in property damage — only half of it covered by insurance.

He said the New Orleans Archdiocese has $52 million in uninsured losses on churches and schools that it is trying to reopen — and an additional $70 million in uninsured losses on buildings that it doesn’t even contemplate reopening until some later date.


Bishops Conference at ‘Critical Point’ in Reorganizing

LOS ANGELES — “I believe we are at a critical point” in reorganizing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., told the U.S. bishops June 15.

As conference secretary, Archbishop Sheehan is head of the bishops’ Committee on Priorities and Plans, which is spearheading a three-year project to downsize the conference and focus its energies on a more limited number of priorities set by the nation’s bishops or the Vatican.

A major part of the plan he laid out for the bishops to consider was a proposal that would reduce the conference’s 35 standing and 16 ad hoc committees to 14 committees. Some suppressed committees would become subcommittees under one of the new committees.


Catholic Health System Agrees to Settle Over Pricing

WASHINGTON — A Catholic health system with 41 hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that its billing and collection practices discriminated against the uninsured.

Catholic Healthcare West, based in San Francisco, admitted no wrongdoing in the case, saying in a statement that it settled the suit “to put this matter behind us, avoid the cost of litigation and focus our resources on caring for patients.” The proposed settlement requires the approval of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, who scheduled a hearing for July 12.

Catholic Healthcare West is the eighth largest nonprofit hospital system in the U.S. and one of the largest Catholic systems in the country.

The settlement would allow any uninsured patient treated at a Catholic Healthcare West hospital since July 1, 2001, and making less than $250,000 in gross household income during the treatment year, to apply for a retroactive reduction in hospital charges, up to 100% of the amount paid.