In New Mexico, diocese nears $25 million payout on sex abuse

In New Mexico, diocese nears $25 million payout on sex abuse

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, N.M., chat during a break at the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 17. (CNS/Bob Roller)

2014 figures from the U.S. Bishops say the Church has spent almost $3 billion over the previous decade on sexual abuse allegations, including settlements, attorneys' fees, and other costs.

GALLUP, N.M. — As its bankruptcy case wraps up, the Diocese of Gallup has allocated millions of dollars to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The Gallup Independent has reported that the diocese’s bankruptcy confirmation hearing is scheduled for June 21.

It is creating a fund of between $21 million and $25 million to be used for professional fees and settlements with the 57 abuse survivors who led claims in bankruptcy court. Professional fees are now listed at more than $3.6 million and some settlements for abuse claimants are expected to approach $300,000.

There are also several non-monetary provisions in the settlement, including letters of apology to be sent to abuse claimants.

The Gallup diocese, led by Bishop James Wall, is also expected to take measures to help prevent clergy sexual abuse in the future.

James Stang, an attorney representing the victims, said earlier this month that while some will receive more compensation than others, the non-financial terms of the deal are also important.

“The bishop is writing an apology letter to all survivors,” said Stang. “If you don’t want one, you can opt out. There will be plaques posted in schools basically saying abuse is not tolerated.  There are agreements to abide by existing child protection policies.”

Stang said the diocese will update and post the names of priests who they believe are credibly accused of abuse. The claimants, Stang said, will also get to view the personnel file of their abuser.

When lawyers for the diocese filed an initial bankruptcy plan in March, they acknowledged the enormity of the harm caused.

“It is impossible to overstate the tragedy of the abuse that was inflicted on the children and teenagers of the Diocese,” diocesan attorneys stated in the plan’s disclosure statement.

“Such abuse was perpetrated by priests or others purporting to do the missionary work of the Roman Catholic Church,” they said. “Instead of fulfilling their missions, such perpetrators inflicted harm and suffering on the children and teenagers of the diocese.”

The Gallup diocese is largely rural, and is spread across western New Mexico and northern Arizona. According to the 2015 Catholic Almanac, it includes 62,000 Catholics who attend 52 parishes.

The Gallup diocese originally filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2013.

According to 2014 figures from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church in the United States spent almost $3 billion over the previous decade on sexual abuse allegations, including settlements, attorneys’ fees, therapy for victims, support for offenders, and other costs.

(Crux Staff contributed to this report.)

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