Worth $49M, arch­dio­cese files for bank­ruptcy

Abuse sur­vivors will have lim­ited time to file new claims

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By Cody Hooks [email protected]­news.com

The Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe has filed for bank­ruptcy in the face of decades of sex­ual abuse law­suits and mil­lions of dol­lars in pay­outs to sur­vivors.

Arch­bishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said dur­ing a Thurs­day (Nov. 29) press con­fer­ence that bank­ruptcy is the most “eq­ui­table” way to con­tinue serv­ing the sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse at the hands of the arch­dio­cese’s priests and re­li­gious lead­ers.

The ac­tual pa­per­work was filed Mon­day (Dec. 3) in the U.S. Bank­ruptcy Court for New Mex­ico.

The Arch­dio­cese has about $49 mil­lion in as­sets, in­clud­ing about $31.6 mil­lion in prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ments.

Un­der Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy, a debtor, such as a busi­ness or other en­tity, comes up with a plan to pay its debts while also con­tin­u­ing to op­er­ate. Wester said schools and parishes, which are sep­a­rate le­gal en­ti­ties, would “go for­ward” as usual.

More than 350 abuse sur­vivors have been doc­u­mented in the arch­dio­cese over the last 25 years. Law­suits re­lated to sex­ual abuse have been a con­stant re­al­ity for the church in New Mex­ico since the first in­stances of abuse were brought to light in the early 1990s.

Now that the arch­dio­cese pe­ti­tioned for bank­ruptcy, all cur­rent law­suits against the church, an es­ti­mated 35, are on hold. Fur­ther­more, no new in­di­vid­ual claims can be brought for­ward dur­ing the bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings, ac­cord­ing to Brad Hall, whose law firm has rep­re­sented over 100 sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse by cler­gy­men.

In the next few months, abuse sur­vivors who have not pre­vi­ously sued the arch­dio­cese have a win­dow to file their claims, which will be dealt with col­lec­tively as part of the bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings.

“New claimants can and should file their claims in the bank­ruptcy sys­tem as soon as pos­si­ble,” Hall said.

“There will be ex­ten­sive no­tice in all me­dia that is in­tended to reach any­one

‘What (bank­ruptcy) does is de­lays the process of set­tling the claims with the vic­tims.’

— Judy Jones, Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests Mid­west re­gional leader

who be­lieves they may have such a claim,” ac­cord­ing to the arch­dio­cese web­site.

Hall wel­comed the bank­ruptcy pe­ti­tion as an­other step to­ward jus­tice for vic­tims.

“We be­lieve that all sur­vivors of clergy sex­ual abuse in New Mex­ico will be helped in the bank­ruptcy sys­tem to ob­tain clo­sure and trans­parency,” read a state­ment from Hall. “With the fil­ing…the arch­dio­cese can fully ad­dress the scope of the priest abuse cri­sis in a mean­ing­ful way.”

“This is not just about money, and they have plenty of land and money, but is also and mostly about trans­parency and heal­ing,” Hall added in an email to The Taos News.

Wester said the arch­dio­cese didn’t pur­sue bank­ruptcy to avoid re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“On the con­trary, we be­lieve that Chap­ter 11 is the most eq­ui­table way for the arch­dio­cese to ad­dress its re­spon­si­bil­ity to the vic­tim-sur­vivors… Chap­ter 11 re­or­ga­ni­za­tion will also pro­vide full fi­nan­cial trans­parency with re­gard to the op­er­a­tions and prop­er­ties of the arch­dio­cese,” the state­ment read.

Ac­cord­ing to the fil­ings, the arch­dio­cese has about $3.8 mil­lion in op­er­a­tional funds and about $6.2 mil­lion in in­vest­ments. The arch­dio­cese has 84 full- and part-time em­ploy­ees

(not in­clud­ing parish priests), with a monthly pay­roll of roughly $311,000.

In the last month, at least two other dio­ce­ses have an­nounced plans to file for bank­ruptcy, in­clud­ing the Dio­cese of Wi­nona-Rochester in Min­nesota, an­nounced Nov. 20, and the Arch­dio­cese of Agaña in Guam, an­nounced Nov. 7.

Catholic lead­ers in each ju­ris­dic­tion used sim­i­lar lan­guage in their announcements, say­ing it was the best move to bring jus­tice to vic­tims.

But some sur­vivor ad­vo­cates don’t agree.

“What it does is it de­lays the process of set­tling the claims with the vic­tims,” said Judy Jones, the Mid­west re­gional leader of SNAP, or the Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests.

“It seems to be an old trick that the church of­fi­cials do. But even­tu­ally, they have to be held ac­count­able. We hope that vic­tims will con­tinue to come for­ward and speak their truth,” Jones said.

The dio­cese of Gallup filed for bank­ruptcy in 2013. It took un­til Nov. 2016 for the court to fi­nal­ize the bank­ruptcy plan. All told, about 57 vic­tims were party to the bank­ruptcy re­or­ga­ni­za­tion and the dio­cese paid out more than $17 mil­lion to claimants. Ac­cord­ing to the dio­cese’s web­site, about $3 mil­lion came from the dio­cese as a whole while $500,000 was paid by dio­cese’s parishes.

In May, the Na­tional Catholic Re­porter re­ported that 19 dio­ce­ses and re­li­gious or­ders in the U.S. had de­clared bank­ruptcy due to sex­ual abuse claims, cit­ing the watch­dog group bish­op­sac­count­abil­ity.org.

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