Wester: Archdiocese facing dozens of sexual abuse lawsuits to file for bankruptcy

Santa Fe New Mexican

November 29, 2018

By Daniel J. Chacón and Andrew Oxford

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is filing for bankruptcy, Archbishop John Wester said Thursday in the face of dozens of ongoing lawsuits stemming from a sexual abuse scandal that stretches back decades and a new investigation by the state’s attorney general into the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of misconduct by its clergy.

Wester said parishes and schools will continue normal operations. But the move will give the archdiocese time to get its finances in order as it faces what Wester said is the real prospect of running out of money. It also could mark the beginning of an effort to finally put a number on how many survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of New Mexico priests are still out there — and how much the church might owe them.

At this point, a lawyer for the archdiocese said, church officials just don’t know.

But describing the archdiocese as facing a tipping point, Wester said bankruptcy is the most equitable way of addressing its responsibilities to survivors of sexual abuse.

“I believe it’s the best for the victims and the best for everybody involved, and I believe that it’s going to have the most promising outcome for everybody,” Wester said. “So, I have to confess, I feel a certain relief. I think it’s kind of turning the page and moving forward in a responsible way.”

Eight dioceses and three archdioceses across the country filed for bankruptcy between 2004 and September 2018, according to Penn State law professor Marie Reilly.

If the process plays out here as it has elsewhere, a judge will set up a procedure for survivors of abuse to bring forward their claims.

Ford Elsaesser, one of the archdiocese’s bankruptcy attorneys, said he expects survivors would have a deadline in April or May to come forward. The archdiocese would then go into mediation with everyone who has brought a claim and try to reach a settlement, he said.

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