updated 12/6/2004 9:01:35 PM ET 2004-12-07T02:01:35

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, saying it did not have the money to cover lawsuits filed by alleged victims of clergy abuse.

It is the third diocese in the country to file for bankruptcy following the sex abuse scandal that came to light nearly three years ago.

Bishop William Skylstad of the Spokane diocese said the Chapter 11 filing is the best way to ensure that all victims are treated fairly and that the church continues its mission.

“Demands by plaintiffs continue to be beyond the ability of the diocese to meet,” said Skylstad, who was just elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In its filing, the diocese listed assets of $11.1 million and liabilities of $81.3 million, nearly all of them sexual abuse claims.

The filing means federal bankruptcy court will determine what assets can be used to pay claims and how much each victim will get. Catholic dioceses in Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., also recently filed for bankruptcy protection.

Critics said Skylstad was trying to avoid a trial that would expose the lengths to which the church went to protect serial pedophiles.

“Everyone suffers when Skylstad chooses to protect his secrets and his image rather than show courage and compassion,” said David Clohessy, national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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