Interim Archbishop Hebda: Flood of abuse claims is 'staggering'

By Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
August 05, 2015

Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda called the number of clergy abuse cases filed “staggering.”

Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda, right, and the archdiocese’s bankruptcy attorney Charles Rogers, left, spoke Tuesday about the large number of clergy abuse claims filed against the archdiocese. The abuse claims span 75 years in 50 parishes.

A day after the deadline for filing clergy abuse claims against the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese, interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda described the number of victims who stepped forward as “staggering.”

“It’s helped me to realize how much pain there can be out there on these issues, that there can be 407 people carrying these burdens,” said Hebda, who became interim archbishop of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese in June.

“The number encourages me not to underestimate that.”

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court Tuesday showed a final tally of 669 claims against the archdiocese, of which 407 were for clergy abuse and another 150 or so were from parishes seeking indemnification from abuse claims and also to protect their medical and dental insurance.

The others were filed by creditors and individuals, including archdiocese whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger, who filed a notice of claim for alleged defamation, and John Bussmann, a former priest charged with sexual misconduct who seeks compensation for living expenses and other support.

But it was the avalanche of individuals who allege that archdiocese priests had sexually abused them as children over the past decades that surprised Hebda.

When the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January, it faced a fraction of such claims.

Moving forward, Hebda said the archdiocese plans to look into the details of the priests involved to be able to learn whether there was anything distinct about the archdiocese that led to so many filings.

“I think we’ll have more insights into that,” Hebda said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

For the moment, the archdiocese faces 407 claims, spanning 75 years, in 50 parishes with 14 archdiocese insurance polices and another 20 or so parish policies, said Charles Rogers, an archdiocese bankruptcy attorney.

The archdiocese is “working hard” to find assets to cover the claims, Hebda said. The archdiocese’s administrative center, the chancery building across from the St. Paul Cathedral, soon may be one of the casualties.

The chancery, and another administration building nearby, are for sale.

We’re having meetings here in the building and we find prospective buyers walking through,” said Hebda. “It makes it very real.”

The chancery is likely to be sold “sometime this summer,” said Rogers. “There seems to be a lot of interest, but there are no firm offers.”

Claims wrapped up

Haselberger, whose disclosures about the archdiocese’s lax handling of clergy abuse charges rocked the church, was among dozens of individuals and creditors who filed last-minute claims Monday. She said she “may or may not seek legal remedy.”

“I filed... because I think it is essential to hold the archdiocese accountable for its actions and especially for the actions of its agents,” said Haselberger, the archdiocese’s former canon lawyer. “I am not seeking personal enrichment.” She said that if she were to seek damages, it would be with “the goal of ensuring that the archdiocese becomes a safe and welcoming place for all individuals.”

More than 150 of the archdiocese’s 187 parishes also filed to protect themselves from abuse claims.

“The parish position is that the archdiocese placed priests in parishes and they had no say in that,’’ said attorney Mary Jo Jensen-Carter, who represents more than 110 parishes.

When priests arrived, she said, parishes weren’t informed about any history of abuse. Therefore parishes should be indemnified for any damages suffered as a result of those practices, she said.

Among the largest creditors that were not abuse survivors:

•The Archdiocese Medical Benefits Plan filed a claim for $13 million, the amount of money in its archdiocese insurance fund.

•The Catholic Finance Corporation filed a claim for $6.7 million related to guarantee of debts for Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis and the Church of St. Peter in Mendota.

•The St. Paul Cathedral filed a claim for $2 million related to the Riley Trust Fund, set up on behalf of the cathedral decades ago, from which the archdiocese has drawn to make regular payments to the cathedral.

With the full list of creditors now in sight, the archdiocese will begin working in bankruptcy court with the victims’ committee, insurance companies and others to review the claims.

Hebda argued that a speedy end to the bankruptcy proceedings is good for everyone.

“The hope is it’s a process that is both able to provide compensation for those who have claims against the archdiocese and to allow the archdiocese to continue its important work in the community.’’

The archdiocese will be “ushering together whatever assets it can make available,” Rogers said.

“We have a daunting task,” he added, “but it will be done.”



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