Archbishop: ‘Many of our assets must be contributed’ to settle abuse cases

Guam Daily Post

March 18, 2022

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

[Via Kilgore News Herald]

Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes on Friday issued a much stronger call for the Catholic community to pull together more existing assets to help pay nearly 300 survivors of Guam clergy sexual assault because it’s the “right thing” to do, and it would end the Archdiocese of Agana’s three-year bankruptcy.

Many of these assets must be contributed, he said.

The archdiocese is under a March 25 deadline to offer a revised settlement offer to the creditors’ committee that represents mostly abuse survivors.

Otherwise, the clergy sex abuse cases could go to trial.

The archbishop’s open letter gives a glimpse into the mixed sentiments within the Catholic community on the use of Catholic school, parish, chancery and other archdiocese assets to help pay abuse survivors.

“I acknowledge the many intense emotions of our Catholic faithful during this journey of atonement, reparation and reorganization. You are angry, saddened, frustrated and bewildered. It is understandable,” Byrnes wrote in a three-page letter.

He also acknowledged that many have toiled, sacrificed and contributed to building and sustaining the schools and parishes in numerous ways that span generations.

“However, this is the painful reality we must face: many of our assets MUST be contributed for the Church to reach an end to bankruptcy,” Byrnes wrote in his March 18 letter updating the community about the archdiocese’s bankruptcy. 

Before the trial, the archdiocese indicated it could pay up to $34.8 million, while the creditors’ committee has been proposing a payment plan of at least $100 million and real estate assets. Prior to that, the church offered a lower cap.

To date, no updated settlement amount has been reached or announced.

‘Atonement, reparation, reorganization’

The archbishop gave an overview of why the archdiocese is in a state of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“Essentially, our Church is in a period of atonement, reparation and reorganization because of the grave harm our archdiocese inflicted upon numerous children in the past,” Byrnes wrote. “Too many of our priests and some laypersons perpetrated these heinous crimes of sexual abuse on innocent youth, who had placed their utmost trust in them.”

In numerous complaints filed in court, survivors said they told their parents, grandparents, and even priests and other church officials about what the priests and other clergy did to them, but they were shushed.

Some were as young as 6 years old when a priest molested them.

Byrnes said this “grave harm” is not a revelation because, for nearly a decade now, extensive news accounts locally and internationally have described the agony of these victims who, as adults, have now filed hundreds of lawsuits against the archdiocese and other groups, including the Boy Scouts of America.

“However, knowing something and accepting something are not the same thing,” Byrnes wrote. “As we take our next steps amid this penitential season of Lent, I again implore all Catholics on Guam to wholeheartedly accept the truth of our sins and the collective responsibility that we all must bring peace and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse in our archdiocese.”

The archdiocese remains committed to “bringing the greatest measure of justice and consolation to those who have suffered sexual abuse” by the clergy and laity, Byrnes said, while also keeping Catholic schools, parishes and ministries open.

Three weeks ago, Byrnes testified in person in court and apologized to Leo Tudela, 78, for the harm caused by members of clergy. Tudela sat through a seven-day trial relating to the archdiocese assets.

Tudela, who represents survivors of clergy sexual assault in the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, testified about his horrifying experience as a 13-year-old and how those childhood sexual abuses impacted him and others like him.

3 years, $6M in legal fees

For three years, the archdiocese battled in federal court with abuse survivors and other creditors.

That battle, which culminated in a seven-day bench trial, brought the archdiocese’s liability in legal and professional fees alone to more than $6 million.

None of that went to the survivors.

In the end, U.S. District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood sided with the abuse survivors and other creditors, when she ruled that the assets, properties and cash of Catholic parishes and schools are part of the archdiocese’s bankruptcy estate. 

This means they can be used to reach a settlement and pay survivors of clergy sexual assault. The judge said the archdiocese essentially is one body.

“We MUST have our new settlement offer ready by March 25 as attorneys return to court for a pivotal status hearing,” Byrnes wrote.

Archdiocese attorney John Terlaje and Vicar General Father Romeo Convocar have been meeting with parishes and schools “to discuss what each entity is able to further contribute to the enormous goal at hand,” Byrnes said.

“There is light at the end of all of this,” he said.

“It is the Light of our Creator who calls us to do the right thing, when we have wronged others,” Byrnes wrote.

He thanked everyone who has sacrificed tremendously and continues to act toward reparation and healing.

“Painfully, yet with complete trust in our Lord, I must openly share that more immediate sacrifices and difficult decisions must be made by all the faithful at our parishes, schools, ministries, as well as the Chancery of our Catholic Church on Guam,” the archbishop wrote.