SANTA FE (NM)
Albuquerque Journal [Albuquerque NM]
March 26, 2022
By Colleen Heild
The long-running bankruptcy reorganization filed by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to deal with clergy abuse claims has reached a pivotal stage, with all parties’ sides entering what could be a final mediation session this week.
Albuquerque attorney Thomas Walker, who represents the Archdiocese, told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma on Friday that the mediation session beginning Monday involving the archdiocese, Catholic parishes, insurance carriers and attorneys for 374 clergy sex abuse survivors is “more important than any before.”
“The debtor (Archdiocese) remains optimistic that a settlement can be reached. We want to see if we can wrap this up,” said Walker during a hearing in the case.
If all parties can’t reach a settlement, he added,”We might not have another opportunity.”
For months, negotiations in the case have hinged on how much the Archdiocese’s insurance carriers should contribute to the pool of money needed to compensate victims who were sexually abused by priests and other clergy as children.
“This case is more than 3 years old and we would like to wrap it up, too,” said Jim Stang, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the creditors committee for abuse survivors.
“We would like to wrap it up with a plan of reorganization but if this upcoming mediation does not result in a resolution of this case, the (survivors) committee will be looking at alternatives that will include a consideration of whether the Chapter 11 process serves survivors at all, anymore,” Stang told the judge.
Attorneys for victims have considered asking Thuma to permit their clients to go back into state district court and pursue individual abuse claims, which would open the door to public hearings and possibly large payouts. About three dozens pending lawsuits were put on hold once the Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in December 2018. At the time, Archbishop John Wester said he hoped the bankruptcy action would help stem the Archdiocese’s financial losses and ensure survivors were compensated.
Texas mediator Paul J. Van Osselaer is the third mediator to try to resolve the case.
“This next two-day session is very important, and it’s more important and I think with each few hours that pass it becomes critical to not get closer but to get it done,” Walker said.