Pacific Daily News [Hagåtña, Guam]
October 4, 2022
By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert
A plan to get the Archdiocese of Agana out of bankruptcy received federal court approval on Tuesday, paving the way for a $34 million to $101 million payout for more than 270 survivors of Guam clergy sexual assaults in a few months.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, in confirming the joint bankruptcy exit plan, said child sexual assaults are among the most “heartwrenching,” and what makes this particular case even more difficult in a mostly Catholic community is having priests as the perpetrators.
For abuse survivors, the confirmation of the fifth amended joint plan of reorganization means they will soon get an “important measure of compensation and restitution,” the archdiocese said.
For the archdiocese, it means it will no longer be under bankruptcy and will be able to focus on continuing its ministry.
The judge, also teary eyed as she wrapped up the confirmation hearing, thanked 79-year-old Leo Tudela and called him a hero for speaking for hundreds of Guam clergy sex abuse survivors throughout the nearly four-yearlong church bankruptcy process.
“It’s not perfect, but a reasonable one,” Tudela said of the settlement plan.
In his emotional address to the court, Tudela shared how he and others felt abandoned by the church and frustrated not just because of the abuse, but also since the bankruptcy process started.
“Today’s a day of mixed feelings, a day of reckoning,” said Tudela, retired director of Asia-Pacific Relations at the U.S. Postal Service.
He’s still pained by abuse from two different clergy members in the 1950s and spoke about the inclusion of child protection protocols in the reorganization plan to prevent more abuse of children.
Archdiocese attorney Ford Elsaesser later told Pacific Daily News that when all money and assets are transferred to the survivors’ trust, which could be in the next 45 to 60 days, the plan takes effect. Then the archdiocese will no longer be in bankruptcy, and an initial round of payments to survivors would follow in two to four months.
Of the up to $101 million in settlement listed in the plan, attorneys said less than $50 million is guaranteed.
That includes nearly $20 million from insurance companies, more than $6.6 million in cash contribution from the archdiocese, and about $18 million in real estate properties that are expected to be sold. The archdiocese and its creditors anticipated up to $55 million from the Boy Scouts of America, but there’s no final deal on that yet.
The judge’s confirmation of the plan brings to a close a nearly four-year bankruptcy that was filed in January 2019, triggered by allegations of sexual abuse by priests and others associated with the Catholic Church.
It’s a costly bankruptcy process, with more than $7 million in legal and other professional fees that the archdiocese has so far paid out as required by the bankruptcy court.
Archdiocese of Agana Vicar General Father Romeo Convocar extended, once again, the archdiocese’s apology to those harmed by clergy and others, and shared the significance of the approval of the archdiocese’s reorganization plan.
“With the confirmation of the plan, we all can move forward. The victims-survivors can have some sense of restitution, justice, comfort and healing, and for us as a church, as an archdiocese, we can move forward with our mission,” he said after the hearing. Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes is currently on medical leave.
Elsaesser also said the Guam settlement is distinct from other diocese bankruptcy cases because this was one “from the ground up,” or from different Catholic parishes and schools, “and not just the people who are administering the diocese.”
Attorney Edwin Caldie, representing the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, said the Lujan law firm, which led the filing of lawsuits against the archdiocese and priests, played a major role in assisting the first survivors to come forward.
“But the most brave and important action taken in this case, or the history of this entire issue, and I think the whole island owes a huge debt of gratitude for — is the survivors, having the strength and the integrity to come forward and speak about something which they often felt shame and fear and all these horrible things. There never could have been this healing without what they did in the first place,” Caldie said.
Attorneys for the archdiocese and creditors said another law firm will now begin the review of survivors’ claims and assess how much compensation each survivor should get.
Hours after the hearing, the archdiocese issued a statement saying that “while nothing can truly erase the deep pain that members of our archdiocese inflicted on them then, we pray that this approved settlement will help them in their healing.
“The approval of the settlement plan embodied in the Joint Plan of Reorganization means we can begin the process of restitution to the victim survivors. It also enables our archdiocese to continue its ministries while rebuilding and reorganizing ourselves to be a better church,” it said.
Haidee Eugenio Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.