SANTA FE (NM)
Associated Press [New York NY]
February 28, 2022
One of the oldest Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. is suing four insurance companies over claims that they haven’t fulfilled contracts to provide liability coverage for sexual abuse complaints.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed the lawsuit this week as it deals with a bankruptcy case involving more than 400 people who allege they were victims of clergy sexual abuse. Some of the claims date back decades.
The archdiocese hopes to raise enough money, including through insurance payouts, to settle the bankruptcy case, which has stretched over more than three years and is on its third mediator.
At least one attorney sees the archdiocese’s lawsuit as a step toward a resolution in the case, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are Great American Insurance Co., Arrowood Indemnity Co., St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. and United States Fire Insurance Co. Representatives of three of the companies couldn’t be reached for comment, nor could attorneys representing the archdiocese.
A man in the legal department of United States Fire Insurance Co. said his company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma that would outline the rights and obligations of the parties in a contract. The lawsuit says this would “terminate or significantly reduce the existing controversy between the parties.”
Aaron Boland, a Santa Fe attorney who represents one of the accusers, said the archdiocese’s lawsuit “pulls back the curtain” on the case.
“The hope is this will move things toward justice,” he said.
Earlier this month, Thuma rejected the archdiocese’s request to seal court filings involving confidential insurance documents from public view.
The archdiocese has been raising money through property sales, property auctions and contributions to settle with people claiming abuse, though the amount of funding it would need to settle the case has not been specified.
Insurance payouts also are expected to fund a large chunk of the settlement.
According to the lawsuit, the archdiocese in the 1990s sought coverage for sexual abuse claims from insurers that had sold liability to the Catholic organization between February 1953 and April 1986, and they reached a series of agreements.
Some settlements released certain insurers from continuing insurance obligations, the suit says, but agreements with the insurers named as defendants didn’t free them of all liability.
The archdiocese claims those insurers have “ongoing obligations to provide insurance coverage for present and future sexual abuse claims.” Church officials also claim in the lawsuit that the insurance companies’ actions “have impeded and obstructed” the archdiocese’s ability to resolve the bankruptcy case.