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Abuse survivors seek Archdiocese of Santa Fe records

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A creditors committee of clergy abuse survivors is seeking a court order from a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge to compel the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to produce records pertaining to its assets of more than $48 million.

A motion filed in the archdiocese’s ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy case states that the creditors want to determine whether the foundation’s assets are property of the archdiocese’s estate, among other issues.

The creditors filed the motion this week after the archdiocese referred questions to an attorney for the foundation, who rejected that informal request.

The quest to find assets to pay claims comes just weeks after more than 360 people filed confidential notices with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court contending they were harmed and are owed damages from childhood abuse by priests and other clergy in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico’s largest Catholic diocese.

Archbishop John C. Wester

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection last December citing the financial strain of ongoing lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests dating back decades. At the time, some three dozen lawsuits or claims were pending, but Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said the bankruptcy was intended to provide an “equitable” remedy to pay current and future claims.

Albuquerque attorney Paul Fish said Friday the foundation, which was formed in 1991, is a separate entity from the archdiocese.

“We will cooperate to the extent appropriate but contributions to the Catholic Foundation are not part of this bankruptcy,” Fish said. He said the foundation is “not liable for the debts of the archdiocese.”

A 2018 annual report filed by the Catholic Foundation states that it is an independent nonprofit corporation that manages a variety of funds that “provide income to meet the needs of Catholic communities throughout the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.”

Gifts from donors are invested in endowment funds and the earning from the funds are distributed yearly.

Assets since 2013 went from more than $37.5 million to nearly $48.5 million, according to the report.

Distributions and grants in 2018 went to scholarships, vocations, education, historic preservation, parishes and clergy/religious, according to the report. In all, more than $3 million was distributed.

In its bankruptcy petition, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe claimed nearly $50 million in assets, including real estate valued at more than $31 million.

Its filing also stated that more than $57 million in property was being held in trust for numerous parishes and $34 million in property transfers occurred over the past several years. Individual parishes were incorporated beginning in 2012 – a move that lawyers for abuse survivors maintain was a strategy to prepare for bankruptcy and delay or hinder creditors.

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