Victims express frustration with pace of Archdiocese of Santa Fe bankruptcy case

·4 min read

Oct. 17—Letters sent to a federal judge in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe bankruptcy filing reflect impatience with the sluggishness of the case, which has ground on for close to three years.

At least 16 letters have gone to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma since the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2018. The bulk of those have been sent by the same two or three people, who have signed them "Jane Doe" or "John Doe" or haven't signed them at all. Nevertheless, the letters to Thuma appear to give voice to victims or relatives of victims as the case drags on.

One exhorts Thuma to "process the the bankruptcy case asap, so all victims can finally have closure and move forward with their lives." That letter was written in November 2019.

About 385 victims, most of whom suffered child sexual abuse from priests, deacons and others in the Catholic hierarchy, are represented by numerous attorneys. Nine of the claimants make up a committee that also speaks for the victims.

Another letter to Thuma, written three months ago in a longhand scrawl, reads: "Nothing is happening! Victims are frustrated with the case at a standstill. Please help!!!!"

The Rev. Glennon Jones, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, wrote on the institution's website at the end of September it is is collecting money to pay the victims.

But Jones added: "Right now we're negotiating with the insurance companies that covered the archdiocese during those years named in the (many) claims; unfortunately, that may take a while, but there's no way to speed it up. Sigh."

The case has moved on to its second mediator. Documents filed with Thuma and comments by attorneys this summer and fall indicate the archdiocese's several insurance companies lack enthusiasm for large payouts.

The archdiocese is raising money through donations and property sales. An auction in August generated about $1.6 million, and a second auction of "nonessential" properties, such as vacant lots donated by families, is expected to take place next month.

Ford Elsaesser, an Idaho-based bankruptcy attorney representing the archdiocese, said Thursday that "efforts to get this resolved as soon as possible continue." He said the ongoing work with insurance companies is confidential but critical to the case.

"And certainly the frustration of the survivors is understandable," Elsaesser said. He said he has represented about 10 parishes, dioceses and archdioceses in bankruptcy cases.

Nationwide, at least 29 dioceses and Catholic orders, including the Diocese of Gallup, have filed for bankruptcy in the sex abuse scandal. BishopAccountability.org recently reported the Church has paid out more than $3.2 billion for cases going back many years. The nonprofit group behind the site said it hadn't been able to collect information on all settlements.

It isn't rare for such cases to lumber on. For instance, the bankruptcy case of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee went on for more than four years before being settled for $21 million for 330 victims, Reuters news service reported.

According to BishopAccountability.com, a 2007 settlement in Los Angeles involved 508 victims and totaled $660 million.

In the Santa Fe case, victims' attorneys accused the archdiocese of trying to squirrel away money in its parishes and trust funds so the cash would be inaccessible to victims. That complaint is on hold.

"We continue to work cooperatively with the survivors' committee," Elsaesser said. "There haven't been any contentious court hearings recently."

It's not clear how much money and insurance the archdiocese is trying to collect. Participants in the case have declined to disclose that. Thuma wrote in February that more than $150 million could be involved, and that was only for a portion of the assets victims potentially could receive.

In another letter to Thuma, a person who last year signed only with a drawing of a sad face says she was a victim who wanted to thank the judge "for having the meeting with all the lawyers. ... Without the meetings, nothing would be happening to bring an end to the Bankruptcy."

Yet another woman wrote Thuma in February to say she wanted no part of the case. While she "was involved in an incident ... I have been receiving many letters from lawyers regarding lawsuits against the Archdiocese," she wrote.

The woman called herself "a proud member" of a Catholic church in New Mexico for more than 70 years. She said she had no desire to participate in any lawsuit against the church.

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