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Santa Fe archdiocese submits bankruptcy filing

December 4, 2018

In the cold, hard world of bankruptcy court, it seems everything can be reduced to a spreadsheet — even a church.

Detailing millions of dollars in assets and a sprawling web of real estate across 19 counties, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed for bankruptcy on Monday in the wake of one lawsuit after another alleging sexual abuse by priests and a cover-up by an institution that has long been a central part of New Mexican life.

While day-to-day operations are expected to continue as normal, the filing is the first formal step in a bankruptcy process Archbishop John Wester announced last week, marking a new phase in litigation that began when the priest sex abuse scandal broke into the open in New Mexico during the 1990s.

Wester said Thursday the archdiocese had already resolved hundreds of cases at a cost of millions of dollars and had been working with bankruptcy attorneys for a few years. About 35 sexual abuse cases are pending, he said.

But Wester added that the archdiocese was at risk of running out of money.

In its bankruptcy petition, the archdiocese estimated it may have liabilities between $10 million and $50 million.

The archdiocese claimed about $49 million in assets, including real estate. That does not include assets the archdiocese said it holds for parishes, such as real estate worth $57 million or nearly $37 million in investments and cash.

In the coming months, a judge will likely set a deadline for survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and then set up a process to evaluate and resolve their claims.

The bankruptcy process is also likely to include the establishment of a trust which can pay claims to victims who come forward later.

And it may spur debate over just how much of the assets the archdiocese claimed can be used to pay victims.

Eighteen other dioceses and religious orders have filed for bankruptcy in the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal, including the Diocese of Gallup in 2013. The diocese ended up setting aside about $22 million for victims.

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