Judge sets Diocese confirmation hearing
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
May 4, 2016
ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma scheduled a confirmation hearing on the Diocese of Gallup’s Chapter 11 plan of reorganization for June 21, after attorneys for the diocese filed amended copies of the plan and disclosure statement early Tuesday.
Thuma then spent much of the court hearing working out the deadlines that will lead up to the confirmation hearing.
As outlined in the order Thuma signed later in the afternoon, diocesan attorneys will mail solicitation packages to classes of creditors in the bankruptcy case by May 17. Clergy sex abuse claimants will receive ballots to accept or reject the diocese’s plan of reorganization. The ballot voting deadline of June 10 will also be the filing deadline for any objections to the agreements the Gallup Diocese has negotiated with the insurers and participating parties that are contributing money to fund the plan of reorganization.
But before the voting deadline, abuse claimants have been promised they should be able to electronically access a read-only personnel file of their abuser.
“They will be able to access the file of the person named in the proof of claim as the abuser,” Susan Boswell, the diocese’s lead attorney, told Thuma. “There will not be the ability to download or print the file or duplicate it in any manner,” she added, explaining that abuse claimants who view their abuser’s file are bound by a confidentiality order.
Although court documents outline how this password protected system should work, James Stang, the legal counsel for the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors that represents the interests of abuse claimants, told Thuma the attorneys’ Internet technology specialists have yet to work out the security details of the system.
“If it’s not possible,” Stang said, “I don’t know if this provision ends up going away.”
Stang also raised a question about the procedures of the upcoming confirmation hearing, asking if members of his committee and possibly other abuse survivors could address the court personally. Thuma, who expressed hesitation about the idea, agreed to the request after questioning Stang about how long those abuse survivor statements might be, noting he didn’t want the statement period “to drag on” during the hearing.
“I think it’s important for them to give their piece,” Thuma said, “but since I don’t think I’m going to let the debtor have a counter argument … try to make it so it’s not just a broadside attack on the debtor.”
In addition to filing the amended plan documents, diocesan attorneys also filed two exhibits they hadn’t filed previously. The first was the diocese’s agreement with St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School. The Catholic mission in Thoreau has agreed to contribute $550,000 to the diocese’s plan of reorganization in exchange for settlement of its property dispute with the diocese.
The second exhibit was the list of non-monetary commitments diocesan attorneys negotiated with Stang’s committee and attorneys representing abuse claimants. Contrary to the wishes of a number of abuse survivors, the Diocese of Gallup did not agree to publicly release the files of credibly accused abusers. The diocese, however, agreed to let abuse claimants have digital access to their own abuser’s file for up to one year — under the tight Internet security provisions the attorneys and computer specialists are trying to arrange.
Other non-monetary provisions include referring to abuse claimants as survivors of clergy sexual abuse rather than “alleged victims” or “alleged survivors,” providing a mechanism for abuse survivors to tell their stories, posting clergy abuse-related information on the diocesan website for specific lengths of time, and prominently displaying abuse awareness plaques in Catholic parishes and schools.
In addition, Bishop James S. Wall will be required to send personally signed letters of apology to all abuse claimants, and he will be required to make well publicized visits to each operating Catholic parish or school “in which abuse is alleged to have occurred” or where identified abusers have served. Invitations will be extended to all known survivors of abuse from those communities.
The confirmation hearing will be held at 9 a.m. June 21 at the Sandia Courtroom in Albuquerque’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The hearing is open to the public.