‘From miles to inches’: Archdiocese, abuse survivors ‘close’ to a joint payment plan

Guam Daily Post

March 25, 2022

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

While not coming up with a new specific dollar amount yet to offer survivors of clergy sexual assault, the Archdiocese of Agana and its creditors on Friday announced they are “close” to submitting a “consensual joint plan.”

That plan is about compensating nearly 300 abuse survivors and getting the archdiocese out of bankruptcy without closing any Catholic parish, school and other ministries.

“I’m happy to hear that you made progress from being miles apart to inches apart,” U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood said Friday morning.

The judge gave parties up to April 8 to present their settlement agreement.

Previously, 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. The archdiocese’s initial offer was lower.

A key trial in February cleared the way for the archdiocese to include assets of parishes and schools in the pool of resources that would be used to settle the claims of survivors who said they, as minors, were raped and molested by priests and other clergy, dating as far back as the 1950s.

Attorney Edwin Caldie, representing the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, mostly abuse survivors, said the committee has not accepted an offer yet but the parties are “getting to a point where I think the archdiocese and…the survivors council are very close.”

He said while no settlement has been reached yet, there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic and hopeful.

“I would say 30 days ago, even two weeks ago, we were a mile or two apart. And now I would measure the distance apart by inches as opposed to miles,” Caldie said during Friday’s status hearing.

Archdiocese attorney Ford Elsaesser also said the archdiocese believes the parties have the “elements of a consensual joint plan” and agrees with Caldie in saying that both sides “narrowed it from miles to inches.”

Elsaesser acknowledged the enormous effort led by Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes and the leaderships both in the chancery and school and parish levels, including their respective finance councils, as well as attorney John Terlaje and Father Romeo Convocar, the vicar general.

The archdiocese and the creditors committee again met before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris of Honolulu, who is serving as the mediator, to try to settle the claims.

Leo Tudela, 78, who represents the survivors of clergy sexual assaults in the creditors committee, said he’s “very, very happy” to hear about the progress and is hopeful this can be settled in a month or two.

He also thanked the judge for her “very rigid” scheduling, which he said puts pressure on both sides.

“I talked to some survivors, and they are very, very happy that finally after almost six years, this is coming to some conclusion and I appreciate that very much,” Tudela said at the status hearing.

The judge thanked the parties for their continued efforts, particularly acknowledging the archbishop’s leadership.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am pretty confident that either way we’ll come to some closure,” the judge said before adjourning the brief status hearing.

This story will be updated.