Final in a two-part series
Bankruptcy docs detail diocese spending
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
December 5, 2015
GALLUP – When the Diocese of Gallup filed its Chapter 11 petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court Nov. 12, 2013, a door was cracked open to information church officials had never previously released.
Attorneys for the Gallup Diocese admitted to the court that chancery officials knew of 105 alleged clergy sex abuse victims. Soon they revised that figure to 121 alleged victims. And after the deadline to file clergy sex abuse claims passed, court documents revealed that 57 individuals filed abuse claims against the diocese in bankruptcy court.
Then in December 2014, after more than five years of promising to release the information, Bishop James S. Wall published the names of 31 men — 30 members of the clergy and one lay volunteer — who the diocese has confirmed are credibly accused abusers.
The bankruptcy case has also provided public access to financial information about the Gallup Diocese that was never available prior to the Chapter 11 filing. Once the bankruptcy case is resolved, however, that information will most likely be unavailable to the public again.
Chancery checking accounts
Each month, attorneys for the diocese file a monthly operating report that generally runs more than 200 pages in length. In the middle of each report are several pages that detail expenditures from three checking accounts controlled by chancery officials, as well as an operating account for Sacred Heart Catholic School in Gallup. The school, along with the Sacred Heart Retreat Center, is included under the umbrella of the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case.
A recent review was conducted of the expenditures from the Gallup chancery’s checking account, its restricted checking account and its custodial checking account. Twenty-two monthly reports were reviewed, from the first full month report in December 2013 to the most recently filed report in September 2015.
The chancery’s checking account produces the most disbursements each month, for a wide variety of expenses, with total expenditures generally ranging from $101,000 to $155,000. The chancery’s twice-monthly payroll is issued out of this account. Soon after the diocese filed for bankruptcy, its December 2013 payrolls were approximately $34,100 and $43,900. After about 20 months of fluctuating and declining figures, the September 2015 payrolls were approximately $28,700 and $40,100.
Expenditures from the restricted checking account generally cover expenses for seminary students, some clergy health care and medical bills and limited credit card charges. Expenditures from the custodian checking account mostly include the payment of Mass stipends to priests, the disbursement of grant money, and payments toward insurance policies and priest retirement funds.
Utilities and credit cards
Each month the Diocese of Gallup pays thousands of dollars from its chancery checking account to cover a variety of expenses at various residences, offices and the retreat center. Some of those expenses include electricity and water, natural gas and propane, trash removal, telephone and Internet services, DirectTV, security systems, pest control, and repair supplies and services.
For the first three months after the Chapter 11 filing, the expenditure lists were fairly detailed as to the specific locations and expenses. For example, those months listed multiple expenses at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center, the Gallup chancery, the bishop’s private residence, the Cure of Ars House of Discernment and residences at 110 E. Green and 205 Black Diamond Canyon in Gallup and 11 Beta in Mentmore. In subsequent months, however, the expenditure lists have provided fewer specific addresses.
In the case of the bishop’s home, the Diocese of Gallup pays $2,200 in rent each month to Catholic Peoples Foundation, the diocese’s nonprofit fundraiser organization. Housing expenses for the bishop’s residence — rent, utilities and various services — ran more than $2,900 in December 2013, and more than $3,800 in both January and February 2014.
The monthly expenditure lists also include credit card expenses, with most of the charges attributed to the bishop. The chancery checking account paid more than $59,400 in credit card bills, and the restricted checking account paid more than $1,470. Of the 33 total credit card payments, 27 were designated as the bishop’s charges.
Travel, retirement plans
The Diocese of Gallup also regularly spends money on travel. Some of it includes professional travel to workshops or conferences, but much of it is spent on its revenue generating Mission Co-op Program. The program, which used to be under the direction of the Catholic Peoples Foundation, is now under the direction of the Rev. Matt Keller, the current vicar general. The program sends Gallup clergy to visit wealthier Catholic parishes across the country, where they make presentations and request financial donations for the Gallup Diocese.
According to the monthly expenditure lists, the diocese financed dozens of Mission Co-op trips, often using visiting international priests as presenters. Mission Co-op travel expenses were listed as more than $16,000 in 2014 and more than $17,000 in the first nine months of 2015. However, many more travel expenses were also listed, but the purpose of the travel was not disclosed. Information about how much revenue the Mission Co-op Program brings to the Gallup Diocese each year has never been publicly released.
The monthly expenditure lists also provide information about how much money the Diocese of Gallup currently contributes to clergy retirement plans. For years, longtime Gallup priests have voiced concerns about whether the diocese has properly funded their retirement plans. Media questions to the diocese about those concerns have never been answered.
According to the monthly reports, beginning in April 2014, quarterly contributions were made to the Diocese of Gallup Priest Retirement Plan for the bishop and several priests not assigned to parish ministry. Those quarterly contributions ranged from $900 to $1,500.
As for the remaining priests, other contributions were made to an account at Frost Bank, which is the financial institution that handles priest retirement accounts. During the 22 months reviewed, five contributions totaling $55,651 were specifically designated as priest retirement contributions, and a Good Shepherd Second Collection was listed as $30,777. Three other disbursements made to Frost Bank, listed as BAA disbursements or restricted pledges, totaled $25,600.
The monthly operating reports are available at the federal government’s public access to court electronic records website (www.pacer.gov). Users must open an account and pay viewing fees. Records can also be viewed at no cost at any U.S. Bankruptcy Court.