ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Victims of clergy sexual abuse will have until June 17 to submit a proof of claim as part of the ongoing bankruptcy case filed by New Mexico’s largest Catholic diocese.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma approved the deadline in an order announced late Friday. The judge spelled out a comprehensive claims process, which includes the Archdiocese of Santa Fe publishing notices in dozens of newspapers and other publications.
The claim forms, which include numerous questions, will be sealed and remain confidential unless the claimant indicates otherwise.
“This order is the first step in what we hope will be a global resolution to provide fair compensation to all survivors of sex abuse by clergy,” Archbishop John Wester said in a statement.
The archdiocese dropped a bombshell in November, announcing it would seek bankruptcy protection after spending more than $50 million over the years to settle hundreds of lawsuits alleging child sex abuse by clergy members.
Wester said at the time that he had been contemplating the action for years but that the archdiocese had reached a tipping point and he wanted to ensure there would be resources to provide compensation for victims. He has described the bankruptcy filing as an equitable thing to do as church reserves dwindle.
National watchdog groups and attorneys for victims have suggested otherwise. They have pointed to the money spent by the archdiocese on lawyers ahead of the bankruptcy filing and the tens of millions of dollars in real estate that was transferred to parishes in recent years, effectively reducing the assets held by the archdiocese.
By establishing the June deadline, attorneys for the archdiocese say it will become clear how many claims might exist. The archdiocese was facing about three dozen pending lawsuits at the end of 2018, but church officials have acknowledged that they expected more claims to be filed.
Following the deadline, church officials are hopeful mediation can begin among the parties.
Aside from local and regional newspapers, the court order also calls for the notice to be distributed to parishes, the state attorney general’s office, district attorney offices throughout the state and to police and sheriff’s offices in all the counties where the archdiocese has a parish or mission.
Native American communities also are on the list to be notified.
Under the order, the archdiocese has a right to dispute any claim and can seek more information from claimants.
The archdiocese has said a separate fund would be set up to cover any claims that might be filed after the bankruptcy case is over.