Guam’s archdiocese filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition Wednesday, hoping to curb a massive lawsuit and provide some relief to nearly 200 victims of a former Catholic official.
Guam’s Catholic Church, reeling from a series of child sexual abuse lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy Wednesday.
The motion, writes the Associated Press, will let the archdiocese avoid trial. The U.S. territory’s branch of the Catholic church currently has dozens of legal cases pending against it.
Attorney Ford Elsaesser, working on behalf of the church, said the Chapter 11 petition was filed with a federal court in Guam. More than 190 individuals have already filed suit, with millions of dollars at stake.
Elsaesser, says the AP, isn’t sure what amount the church can offer in a potential settlement. Its current assets are valued at nearly $23 million, although it has double that amount in liabilities. The archdiocese plans to sell non-essential real estate to bolster its settlement fund.
Declaring bankruptcy would allow the church to maintain its operations, keeping parishes and parochial schools open.
Ultimately, the filing would halt victims’ lawsuits and set a deadline for new claims.
“Our motivation for going through this measure has been and still is our desire to bring the greatest measure of justice in consolation for those who suffered in the hands of the clergy,” Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes said in a news briefing. “We take responsibility as a church for the sins of the past.”
The church said bankruptcy would give it a chance to restructure its finances and pay off the current complaintants.
“It’s never enough but we hope that we at least give some amount of justice to these victims,” Byrnes said.
DW.com reports that at least 22 priests, along with seven other individuals affiliated with the archdiocese, have been accused of abuse and molestation in separate lawsuits.
Pope Francis was forced to name a new religious administrator for the U.S. territory in 2016, after former Archbishop Anthony Apuron was accused of sexual abuse by former altar boys. They claim to have been molested in the 1970s, when Apuron was still an ordinary priest.
Apuron, for his part, denied the allegations and has maintained his innocent. No criminal charges have been filed against him.
However, a Vatican tribunal did declare the 73-year old guilty in a case involving child sex abuse allegations. A $5 million lawsuit against Apuron also names the Holy See and Vatican City as defendants, claiming the papacy was complicit as it acted as the former archbishop’s employer.
Attorney Leander James, representing some of Apuron’s alleged victims, said a settlement will offer some measure of justice.
“We welcome the announcement,” James said. “Bankruptcy provides the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims.”
James encouraged other victims to speak up now, noting that Chapter 11 would create a deadline for joining litigation against the church.
“The bankruptcy filing will automatically stop any further action in the lawsuits that have been filed, and it will create a deadline for all Guam clergy abuse victims to file claims,” James said. “It will be important for those who have not come forward to do so and file their claim.”