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Deadline arrives for clergy abuse claims in New Mexico

June 17, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Monday marked the deadline for filing claims against New Mexico’s largest Roman Catholic diocese as it wades through a bankruptcy prompted by the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Lawyers for hundreds of people who are submitting claims are hopeful the case will shed more light on a scandal that has rocked parishes across the globe.

The case against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is about more than reparations, said Levi Monagle, an attorney with an Albuquerque-based law firm that has represented hundreds of clients in a state that was once home to a treatment center where church authorities sent priests accused of abuse.

As much as they are looking for peace, Monagle said his clients want more transparency and accountability from the church.

“This crisis has devastated our state, and it has left open wounds in our state,” he said in an interview. “There has to be a serious and diligent effort on behalf of the archdiocese to begin rebuilding trust with the communities of New Mexico, and my hope is this process will be an avenue for that.”

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe shocked parishioners across much of New Mexico when it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last year, joining nearly two dozen dioceses around the United States that have been struggling with the fallout from the abuse scandal.

Archbishop John Wester has said it was the equitable thing to do as church reserves dwindled. The archdiocese says $52 million in insurance money and its own funds have gone to settling 300 claims over the years.

There are expected to be around 300 claims filed as part of the bankruptcy case, with nearly all of those relating to allegations of abuse. Officials expect to release the total later this week.

The claim forms , which include numerous questions, will be sealed and remain confidential unless the person filing it indicates otherwise.

Just days ahead of the deadline, Wester put out a request for prayers, acknowledging the need for emotional and spiritual healing.

The archdiocese said in a statement Friday that it wanted to assure people of its desire and efforts to make sure that such crimes never happen again.

Lawyers for abuse survivors say the number of claims against the New Mexico archdiocese will likely only scratch the surface. They also have questions about how the case will affect other religious orders, such as Servants of the Paraclete, which ran the treatment center.

The scandal has prompted prosecutors in New Mexico and elsewhere to demand church documents. A nationwide Associated Press query of more than 20 state and federal prosecutors found they are looking for legal means to hold higher-ups in the church accountable for sex abuse.

It will be up to the bankruptcy court and lawyers for the creditors to process and organize all the claims in New Mexico. How long that takes will depend on how many claims are filed.

Lawyers also will keep gathering information on the archdiocese’s finances to determine how much is available to divvy up once the court orders the parties to work out a settlement.

National watchdog groups and attorneys for abuse survivors have criticized the archdiocese for transferring tens of millions of dollars in real estate to parishes in recent years, effectively reducing the amount of assets held by the archdiocese.

In its bankruptcy petition, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe claims nearly $50 million in assets, including real estate valued at more than $31 million.

The filing also says more than $57 million in property is being held in trust for numerous parishes and property transfers worth an additional $34 million were done over the past couple years. State records show that individual parishes were incorporated as part of an effort that started in 2012 under Wester’s predecessor.

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