Sexual abuse lawsuits lead Santa Fe archdiocese to file for bankruptcy

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 11/30/18

In the face of decades of sexual abuse lawsuits and millions of dollars in payouts to survivors, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced it plans to file for bankruptcy.

Archbishop of Santa Fe John …

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Sexual abuse lawsuits lead Santa Fe archdiocese to file for bankruptcy

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In the face of decades of sexual abuse lawsuits and millions of dollars in payouts to survivors, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced it plans to file for bankruptcy.

Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester made the announcement Thursday (Nov. 29) in Albuquerque. Wester said bankruptcy is the most “equitable” way to continue serving the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the archdiocese’s priests and religious leaders.

Lawyers for the archdiocese will file a petition for bankruptcy the “first full week of December,” according to a statement.

“I wish to emphasize that we have not taken this step 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.

Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a business comes up with a plan to pay its debts while also continuing its operation.

There are more than 350 documented abuse survivors in the archdiocese and 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.

Wester said parishes and schools would “go forward” with their usual operations.

Local priests were not immediately available to comment on the impact to their parishes.

Lawyers who work on behalf of victims welcomed the announcement as a further 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 the law firm of Brad D. Hall, which over the last five years has represented more than 100 survivors, including several from Taos County. “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.

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 bankruptcy plan to be finalized by the courts. All told, about 57 victims were party to the bankruptcy reorganization and the diocese paid out more than $17 million dollars 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. 

For more on this story, see the Dec. 6 edition of the Taos News.  

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