ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Nearly 400 claims have been filed against New Mexico’s largest and oldest Roman Catholic diocese as part of a pending bankruptcy case that stems from the clergy sex abuse scandal, church officials announced Friday.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe reported that 395 people filed claims against the Church as of the June 17 deadline. That included 374 claims involving allegations of sex abuse. The remaining 21 were related to other grievances.
The archdiocese shocked parishioners across much of New Mexico when it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last year, joining nearly two dozen other dioceses around the United States that have been struggling with the fallout from the abuse scandal.
“We are hopeful that mediation among the survivors’ committee, insurers, archdiocese and other parties will result in a consensus to provide as equitable a resolution for each and every claimant,” the archdiocese said in a statement issued Friday.
New Mexico has a long history with clergy sex abuse because many priests from around the country were sent to the state to get treatment for pedophilia. Church documents as well as legal filings and victim testimony indicate the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across the state.
Numerous lawsuits resulted over the years, and the Church was forced during the 1990s to begin publicly addressing the problem.
It’s expected to take many more months to resolve the bankruptcy case because lawyers will have to gather more information about the archdiocese’s finances to determine how much is available to divvy up among the claimants.
When it first announced its decision to file for reorganization, the archdiocese said it had already paid out $52 million in insurance money and its own funds to settle 300 claims that had been filed over the years.
Archbishop John Wester had said more allegations were likely to surface and reorganization would be the right thing to do because church resources were dwindling.
In its bankruptcy petition, the archdiocese claimed nearly $50 million in assets, including real estate valued at more than $31 million. The filing also showed more than $57 million in property was being held in trust for numerous parishes, and property transfers worth an additional $34 million were done over the past couple years.
The claim forms that were filed as part of the case will be sealed and remain confidential unless the person filing it indicates otherwise.
However, church documents related to abuse cases could be made public, and lawyers for some of the survivors are hopeful that they will shed more light on what otherwise has been a secretive process over the decades.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, wants the Church to be more forthcoming about the names, whereabouts and work histories of clergy members identified in the abuse claims.
“That’s the best way to help protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth,” the group said in a statement issued Friday. “Each of these ‘claims’ represents a boy or girl whose life was suddenly and sometimes irrevocably traumatically derailed — first by a predator priest and then later by a corrupt church bureaucracy.”
During court proceedings earlier this year, Wester agreed to disclose more information, with names redacted, as members of the creditors’ committee pushed for transparency.
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