Archdiocese auctions off properties to pay for settlement in bankruptcy case

Santa Fe New Mexican

September 21, 2021

By Rick Ruggles

Bids began rolling in Tuesday as the Archdiocese of Santa Fe launched its first online auction of properties to raise money for a settlement in a federal bankruptcy case prompted by hundreds of claims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The archdiocese wants to generate funds through the online auction — as well as insurance, donations and other property sales — to settle a case with about 385 people who have alleged abuse, with some claims dating back decades.

About 140 properties are up for sale in Valencia, Sandoval and Bernalillo counties, most of which are small and vacant parcels donated to the archdiocese. Some parcels will be bundled for the sale.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, one Valencia County parcel had a bid of only $250, while another in Bernalillo County was up to $188,000.

The current auction will conclude next week. Additional properties in 15 other counties will be auctioned off in November.

The Rev. Glenn Jones, vicar general of the archdiocese, wrote in an email: “We have high hopes” for the auctions’ success.

The archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy in December 2018, hopes to limit sales for the settlement to “nonessential” properties as opposed to churches, schools and community centers.

The size of any possible settlement amount remains unclear. A federal judge wrote in a February ruling more than $150 million could be involved, and that was only for a portion of the assets claimants might receive.

The claimants would have to approve a settlement offer before it is finalized.

Bankruptcies have become common in Catholic dioceses around the country. The website lists 29 dioceses and Catholic orders that have declared bankruptcy. The sex-abuse scandal, primarily perpetrated by clergy on children, began to gain global attention in the early 1990s.

A court record says the Archdiocese of Santa Fe could pay up to $62,730 to the auction firm SVN Auction Services for marketing and other expenses. A 10 percent commission will be added to winning bids. Louis B. Fisher III of SVN said about 250 people had registered for the auction as of Tuesday morning. The auction started at noon.

That number of early registrants was “good for the type product we have,” Fisher said. He hoped the sale could raise up to “a few million” dollars because many of the parcels are not of great value and are in lightly populated areas, he added.

Fisher said preparations had gone well, but many of the properties don’t have addresses, so the auction producers used tax assessors’ uniform property codes, a geographic information system for mapping and a charting subcontractor to identify some of the parcels.

SVN Auction Services is based in Florida and Louisiana.

Fisher, an executive with the company, said potential participants in the online auction can get involved right up to the end.