Pacific Daily News [Hagåtña, Guam]
September 10, 2022
By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert
Survivors of Guam clergy sexual assaults have a few days left to vote for or against the Archdiocese of Agana’s bankruptcy exit plan, which includes settlement of the abuse claims estimated at $37 million to $101 million.
Their ballots must be received by the U.S. District Court of Guam clerk by Sept. 19 to be counted as a vote to accept or reject the disclosure statement, which is the plan to get the archdiocese out of bankruptcy.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood approved the adequacy of the third amended disclosure statement filed on July 19, giving each claimant a chance to be heard by their vote.
Each abuse claimant’s decision about how to vote is their own, but they can seek guidance from their attorneys.
A vote to accept the plan by a majority of the more than 270 abuse survivors who filed claims in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case is needed to move the process forward.
Otherwise, the bankruptcy case will continue.
Once enough abuse survivors vote to approve the plan, Tydingco-Gatewood also has to confirm it before the archdiocese could channel claims into a trust.
“The plan satisfies all the conditions required by (the) bankruptcy code … and has been proposed for the purpose of providing the best possible return to the Archbishop’s creditors. For all of these reasons, the objections should be overruled and the plan should be confirmed,” the archdiocese’s attorneys said in court filings.
Settlement money comes from cash contributions from the archdiocese, Catholic schools, parishes, insurance firms and proceeds from the sale of archdiocese property worth about $18 million.
Besides cash, the compensation package would also include cemetery plots and free Catholic school tuition for the abuse survivors and their children.
The archdiocese and its creditors, mostly abuse claimants, jointly filed the plan in May. They amended the plan a few times amid objections and concerns from survivors, other creditors, insurers and others.
Tydingco-Gatewood set an Oct. 3 hearing, which should not last more than five days, to consider the plan’s confirmation.
“The court has received inquiries as to whether the confirmation hearing will be in person or via Zoom. It is the court’s strong preference to have all individuals participating in the confirmation hearing to be physically present in the courtroom,” the judge also wrote later.
Many of the claimants were minor altar boys when they were allegedly raped, sexually molested or abused by their parish priests and other members of the Guam Catholic clergy, dating as far back as the 1950s.
But the widespread abuses remained mostly secret until former Hågat altar boys came forward in 2016 to accuse then Archbishop Anthony Apuron of abusing them in the 1970s.
Soon after, many other priest abuse survivors came forward. The Vatican stripped Apuron of his title and banished him from Guam for sexual assault of multiple minors.
The archdiocese filed Chapter 11 or reorganization bankruptcy in 2019 after a stream of clergy abuse claims. Mediation talks have been held.
Insurance companies and other parties such as the Boy Scouts of America filed objections to or raised concerns with the third amended joint plan filed July 19.
The U.S. Trustee filed opposition to the plan confirmation, saying the proposed releases, exculpations and injunctions are overboard, providing protections well beyond the scope of what’s allowed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Continental Insurance, which the joint plan said could contribute up to $9.3 million to the settlement trust, in July asked the court to declare that the debtor — or the archdiocese — cannot prove the existence of insurance policies issued to it by the insurance firm.
A family objected to the bankruptcy case plan, saying they want the return of two parcels of Hågat properties that their parents donated to the archdiocese for the specific use of the Sånta Rita-Sumai parish.
Now, the archdiocese plans to have the property sold and use the proceeds to help settle clergy abuse claims.
Earlier in the year, the court sided with the archdiocese’s creditors that certain Catholic parishes and schools’ properties can be used to settle the clergy sex abuse claims.
Haidee Eugenio Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.