Guam Catholic Church to file bank­ruptcy amid abuse law­suits

Texarkana Gazette - - RELIGION - By Caleb Jones and Grace Garces Bordallo

HAGATNA, Guam—Guam's Catholic Church will file for bank­ruptcy—a move that will al­low the arch­dio­cese to avoid trial in dozens of law­suits al­leg­ing child sex­ual abuse by priests and move to­ward set­tle­ments.

Arch­bishop Michael Byrnes an­nounced Wed­nes­day that me­di­a­tion ef­forts that be­gan in Septem­ber led the church to bank­ruptcy.

"This path will bring the great­est mea­sure of jus­tice to the great­est num­ber of vic­tims," Byrnes said. "That's the heart of what we're do­ing."

Byrnes said the bank­ruptcy will pro­vide "fi­nal­ity for vic­tim sur­vivors that they've been heard and un­der­stood."

At­tor­ney Le­an­der James, who is work­ing with al­leged vic­tims in Guam, said in a state­ment the move will help re­solve cur­rent law­suits from more than 180 claims of abuse through set­tle­ments.

"We wel­come the an­nounce­ment," James said in a state­ment. "Bank­ruptcy pro­vides the only re­al­is­tic path to set­tle­ment of pend­ing and fu­ture claims."

James says the bank­ruptcy will cre­ate a dead­line for vic­tims to file claims.

"This bank­ruptcy fil­ing will au­to­mat­i­cally stop any fur­ther ac­tion in the law­suits that have been filed, and it will cre­ate a dead­line for all Guam clergy abuse vic­tims to file claims," James said. "It will be im­por­tant for those who have not come for­ward to do so and file their claim."

Guam at­tor­ney An­thony Perez, who is also rep­re­sent­ing vic­tims, says the bank­ruptcy does not mean the arch­dio­cese will be shut­tered.

"Just be­cause the arch­dio­cese is fil­ing for bank­ruptcy does not mean it will go out of busi­ness," Perez said. "In my dis­cus­sions with at­tor­neys from my team with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in th­ese types of bank­rupt­cies, this fil­ing will al­low the arch­dio­cese to re­or­ga­nize and still be oper­a­tional af­ter the claims are paid and the bank­ruptcy is closed."

Ear­lier this year the Vat­i­can re­moved the sus­pended Guam arch­bishop from of­fice and or­dered him not to re­turn to the Pa­cific is­land af­ter con­vict­ing him of some charges in a Vat­i­can sex abuse trial.

The Vat­i­can didn't say what ex­actly Arch­bishop An­thony Apuron had been con­victed of, and the sen­tence was far lighter than those given high-pro­file el­derly prelates found guilty of mo­lest­ing mi­nors.

Apuron, who has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and has not been crim­i­nally charged, is 73. The Vat­i­can re­tire­ment age is 75.

Pope Fran­cis named a tem­po­rary ad­min­is­tra­tor for Guam in 2016 af­ter Apuron was ac­cused by for­mer al­tar boys of sex­u­ally abus­ing them when he was a priest. Dozens of cases in­volv­ing other priests on the is­land have since come to light, and the arch­dio­cese is fac­ing more than $115 mil­lion in law­suits al­leg­ing child sex­ual abuse by priests.

Church lawyer Keith Tal­bot says the church has been able to set­tle two cases.

Some Catholics on Guam said they were not sur­prised at the church's bank­ruptcy an­nounce­ment.

"I knew it was go­ing to hap­pen," said 68-year-old Ju­dith Salas. "Even­tu­ally they would have to pay."

Fran­cis San­tos, 60, a mem­ber of his parish's fi­nance coun­cil, said the move was in­evitable. "The church had to take a po­si­tion to save all the churches and schools," he said. "Per­son­ally, I'm glad. At least now we have some di­rec­tion that we as Catholics can look for­ward to."

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