Guam’s Catholic Church to file for bankruptcy

Guam’s Catholic Church says it is going to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.

This chapter allows the debtor to propose a plan of reorganisation to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time.

Multitudes of sexual abuse claims against clergy have driven the Church to take this step.

The US territory’s Archbishop Michael Byrnes decided to file for bankruptcy because it is the most expedient way to support the alleged victims.

“Over the last two years, we’ve done our best. We’ve strengthened our policies for a safe environment. We’ve educated over 2,000 people in the practices of safe environment protection of minors. We’ve made a lot of great strides.

“But our biggest issue is the almost 200 victim survivors of sexual abuse,” he said.

“This path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims. That’s the heart of what we’re doing.”

Byrnes said the bankruptcy will provide “finality for victim survivors that they’ve been heard and understood.”

His predecessor, Anthony Apuron, was suspended following accusations of abusing minors and helping hide similar abuses by priests and other Catholic authority figures in Guam. The allegations date back decades.

The allegations have resulted in the Church in Guam becoming buried under “a mound of lawsuits.”

Keith Talbot, a lawyer for the Church, said the decision to file bankruptcy grew out of information from mediation sessions that began in September.

“Bankruptcy does two really good things for us.

“One is finality for the archdiocese going forward,” Talbot said.

As part of the process, a judge will set a deadline — effectively a kind of statute of limitations — for claimants to come forward with any new lawsuits.

“The other part is that bankruptcy is the method to deliver the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims.”

Leander James, a lawyer representing several alleged victims agrees with Talbot.

“I think this bankruptcy was necessary to create an avenue toward a final settlement,” James said.

“It will also provide the archdiocese with a road out of this dark jungle it’s been in. For years now, they’ve been trying to find their way out. I think this may provide that path.”

The Guam diocese is not alone in filing for Section 11 bankruptcy.

So far at least 19 dioceses and religious orders have been reported to have filed — or announced their intention to file — for bankruptcy protection in the US in efforts to settle sexual abuse claims, according to Catholic watchdog BishopAccountability.org.

To date, claims of clergy sex abuse have cost the Church more than $3 billion in major settlements and awards doled out to alleged victims.

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