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Deadline set for abuse claims against church

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Priest sexual abuse survivors have until June 17 to file a proof of claim in the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy case filed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

A Friday order by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma approving the deadline for claims tasks the archdiocese with getting the word out to clergy abuse victims, primarily by publishing notices in more than 22 newspapers or other publications in New Mexico and elsewhere.

“The 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,” said Archbishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in a news release.

Wester said the archdiocese, the largest of New Mexico’s three Catholic dioceses, is working “collaboratively” with a creditor’s committee of sex abuse survivors and “our insurers to maximize the outreach to those who might have claims.”

Claims will be sealed and won’t be available to the public unless the claimant indicates otherwise.

“After the claims filing deadline of June 17, 2019,” Wester stated, “we are hopeful that mediation among the survivors’ committee, insurers, archdiocese and other parties will result in a consensual plan providing an appropriate resolution for each and every claimant.”

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy reorganization in December, citing the financial burden of continuing litigation brought by victims, most of whom allege they were sexually abused by priests decades ago.

“The establishment of a deadline to file claims is critical in this case because it will allow the Debtor and other necessary parties to understand the universe of claims asserted against the Debtor,” stated attorneys for the archdiocese in a Feb. 1 filing.

In its bankruptcy petition, the archdiocese identified 36 pending lawsuits or claims that had been filed alleging priest sexual abuse.

Wester has previously estimated that the archdiocese has spent million of dollars since the 1990s paying claims of abuse survivors, many of whom were altar boys who served Mass and helped priests in other religious ceremonies.

So far, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has publicly identified nearly 80 priests or clergy who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. Two of them, Arthur Perrault and Marvin Archuleta, both in their 80s, are facing criminal sexual abuse charges brought by federal and state agencies over the past year.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s Office has been investigating two other priests in connection with the repeated rape of a boy over several years in the 1980s while they served as church leaders in Albuquerque and as Boy Scout leaders while on outings in “wilderness areas” of New Mexico.

Albuquerque attorney Brad D. Hall has said his law firm over the past five years has represented more than 100 victims of clergy sexual abuse who have filed civil claims. A number of those, now middle-age, had repressed memories of the childhood abuse until undergoing therapy to deal with other issues in their lives. Several had moved out of state.

Notification requirements

Under the bankruptcy deadline order, notifications to prospective claimants are to be published in newspapers that include the Albuquerque Journal and its Journal North publication, The Arizona Republic, El Paso Times and The Denver Post. A one-time only notice will be published in the nationally-circulated USA Today.

The archdiocese is also required to mail a copy of the notice to the AG’s office, every district attorney’s office in New Mexico, to each of the more than 90 parishes of the archdiocese and affiliated missions and the public health agency for each county where the archdiocese has a parish or mission, the order states.

The notice must also be sent to a substance abuse agency, if any, in each county where the archdiocese has a parish or mission, including the Agora Crisis Center in Albuquerque.

Notification is also required to be sent to New Mexico police and sheriff’s offices and hospitals where the archdiocese has a parish or mission. The judge’s order, which was signed by attorneys for the archdiocese and the claimants, also attempts to ensure Native Americans in New Mexico receive adequate notice. Pueblo governors and/or presidents of tribes and Indian nations in New Mexico are also on the list to be notified.

All such recipients are being asked to publicly post such notices until the expiration of the June 17 deadline.

Those who fail to file claims by the deadline “may not be treated as a creditor with respect to such claims for the purposes of voting on and distribution under any Chapter 11 plan proposed and/or confirmed in this case,” the judge’s order stated.

The archdiocese retains the right to dispute any filed claim, including raising defenses under the statute of limitations, and can request information from sexual abuse claimants, the order added.

The archdiocese and its bankruptcy attorneys have said that a separate fund for future claims would be established for those who assert claims after the bankruptcy case is over.

At least one victim sent a letter to Judge Thuma filed Feb. 21 seeking a earlier deadline for proof of claims.

“I have been waiting for years to get closure to my case with the SF Archdiocese and the courts. My case was getting ready to go to mediation when the Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, putting a halt to my process. Please be the voice that we need so all of us can sleep better at night and bring closure to this nightmare,” stated the victim, identified only as John Doe.

Those who want information on how to obtain and file a proof of claim for and associated documents can go to the archdiocese website at archdiosf.org, or call the archdiocese hotline at 1-505-831-8144 or the official committee of unsecured creditors appointed in the case at 1-888-570-6217.

Proof of claim forms must be written in English and submitted to the Bankruptcy Court Clerk at the Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, 333 Lomas Blvd. NW, Suite 360, Albuquerque, N.M., 87102, by 5 p.m. on or before June 17.

Such forms shall be sealed and won’t be available to the general public unless a sexual abuse claimant affirmatively indicates his or her desire the claim be made public, the judge’s order states.

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