Guam's Catholic Church has filed for bankruptcy as it faces a tsunami of sex abuse claims from more than 190 accusers

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pope guamGuam USA Territory statue of Pope John Paul visit in 1981 for Catholics.UIG via Getty Images

  • Guam's Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, a move that will help sidestep a court showdown in dozens of child sexual abuse lawsuits.
  • A lawyer for the church said the bankruptcy was filed with federal court in Guam, a US island territory in Micronesia, in the Western Pacific, that has a long history of close ties to the US military.
  • The church faces multimillion-dollar lawsuits for sexual abuse from about 190 accusers.
  • The Vatican is also being targeted, with local media reporting more than 200 child sex abuse cases have been filed on Guam in the last two years naming the Holy See.

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) - Guam's Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, a move that will allow the archdiocese to avoid trial in dozens of child sexual abuse lawsuits and enter settlement negotiations.

Ford Elsaesser, an attorney representing the church, said the Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition was filed with federal court in Guam.

The church faces multimillion-dollar lawsuits for sexual abuse from about 190 accusers.

Elsaesser couldn't put a figure on the dollar amount the church is hoping to raise for its settlement. But it said its current assets are valued at $22.9 million with liabilities of $45.6 million. The church also plans to sell non-essential real estate and add the proceeds to the settlement fund.

The Chapter 11 reorganization also allows the church to continue its operations, keeping parishes and parochial schools open, Elsaesser said. This bankruptcy filing will halt current lawsuits and create a deadline for abuse victims to file new claims before the church settles with accusers.

During the reorganization phase, a notice will be given to everyone who may have a claim but has not filed, Elsaesser said. The deadline to file is estimated to take place in May to June. An unclaimed trust fund will also be established for future claimants who did not file within the bankruptcy deadline, he said.

Last November, Archbishop Michael Byrnes announced the church's decision to file for bankruptcy after mediation efforts to try to settle claims failed.

"This path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims," Byrnes said last year. "That's the heart of what we're doing."

Byrnes said the bankruptcy will provide finality for victim survivors.

The Chapter 11 reorganization also allows the church to continue its operations where parishes and parochial schools will remain open.

When the announcement was made in November, attorney Leander James, who is working with alleged victims in Guam, praised the move.

"We welcome the announcement," James said in a statement. "Bankruptcy provides the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims."

Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Archbishop Anthony Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest. Dozens of cases involving other priests on the island have since come to light.

Apuron's nephew, Mark Apuron, is one of those who alleges sexual abuse. His attorney David Lujan amended his civil complaint on Monday, to include the Vatican, according to The Guam Daily Post. The civil complaint names the Holy See, Archdiocese of Agana, Capuchin Franciscans, and former Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron.

The Vatican was named in the complaint because the Holy See "had direct control over the former Guam archbishop with the power to appoint and remove the Catholic leadership on Guam," The Guam Daily Post reported. However The US Foreign Sovereignties Act makes it difficult to pursue a lawsuit against a foreign nation like the Vatican.

Earlier last year, the Vatican removed the suspended Apuron from office and ordered him not to return to the Pacific island after convicting him of charges in a Vatican sex abuse trial.

The Vatican didn't say what exactly Apuron had been convicted of, and the sentence was far lighter than those given to high-profile elderly prelates found guilty of molesting minors.

Apuron, 73, has denied the allegations and has not been criminally charged. He appealed his case, according to the Guam Daily Post, and Pope Francis has not made a decision yet said appeal.

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