Editorial: Archdiocesan Bankruptcy Must Not Be Kept Secret

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It’s time to give something back about the legal hold that is blocking payments from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to nearly 400 sexual abuse survivors.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2018 in part to avoid having to face individual lawsuits alleging clergy sex abuse.

Plaintiffs are already being denied what many of them are seeking – publicly exposing the church for its wrongdoings. Keeping victims in financial limbo adds insult to injury.

When a diocese files for bankruptcy, lawsuits by alleged abuse survivors are put on hold while a bankruptcy judge oversees the creditor payment process to leave enough money for the diocese to operate. These bankruptcy proceedings hang on the question of who will pay sexual abuse claims and how much. The archdiocese said it would file a lawsuit this week for a judge to settle undisclosed issues about its relationship with its insurance companies. The archdiocese and the plaintiffs reached a tentative agreement last year on what the archdiocese would pay, but contributions from insurance companies remain an issue. As reported in the Journal last week, there has been no disclosure of what the archdiocese is willing to contribute or what insurance companies are offering. According to the Associated Press, the archdiocese and its various insurers have so far paid out $52 million to settle about 300 cases out of court, averaging about $175,000 per victim.

Four years after filing for bankruptcy, plaintiffs’ attorneys are preparing to ask US Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma to let the state’s lawsuits/claims that had been stayed go forward. The move should prompt the archdiocese and its insurers to come to an agreement — they will likely be more liable if Thuma lifts the suspension. The lawsuits would also air the dirty laundry of the archdiocese, detailing how it handles complaints of sexual abuse.

On top of everything else, Thuma will decide to keep the Archdiocese’s negotiations with insurance companies under wraps. Previous court documents, orders and hearings have been sealed at the request of the Archdiocese. It’s encouraging that Thuma said last week, “My bias is not to seal things off, especially in a case like this where there’s a public interest and the public has a right to know.”

The church has a history of private settlements and confidentiality agreements to cover up abuses by priests. If lawsuits are not allowed to go through public channels, the public’s right to know the details of how these payments are structured is only magnified.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.

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