Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 16:42 pm (CNA).
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has agreed on a $121.5 million bankruptcy settlement to provide compensation for hundreds of sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese announced Tuesday.
“The Church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured,” Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said May 17. “It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing process of those who have been harmed.”
The alleged sexual abuse victims involved in the settlement number more than 370, and some incidents of abuse date back more than 60 years, KOB 4 News reports. When the archdiocese first filed for bankruptcy in November 2018, it faced only 35 to 40 active claims.
“We in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe never cease to keep those who have been harmed by sexual abuse our first priority. We must keep our children safe; it is a responsibility we all share,” Wester said.
“It is our sincere hope that all parties will see the wisdom of the settlement and help bring the bankruptcy case to a conclusion for the good of the survivors of sexual abuse, the good of the Church, and Catholics throughout the archdiocese,” he said.
There were a total of six mediation efforts before the settlement was reached. The bankruptcy plan of the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization will be filed with the bankruptcy court.
Settlement funds will not pay for the archdiocese’s attorney fees and other expenses, which will be paid from separate funds.
The settlement will be funded by the archdiocese, its parishes, other Catholic entities, and the insurance carriers of the archdiocese. Parishes have collectively agreed to contribute “significant amounts” to help fund the settlement plan.
“These contributions will also help relieve them of potential individual financial burdens from any current or future lawsuits,” the archdiocese said. “Other parties have also agreed to contribute in return for the same protections.”
According to the archdiocese, the settlement includes “many critical non-monetary actions,” including the creation of an archive documenting sex abuse, prayer services, and meetings with victims of sexual abuse.
“The archdiocese hopes that these and other positive steps will help to bring healing to survivors of sexual abuse and the larger community,” its statement said.
One alleged abuse victim, identified only as Ana, told KOB 4 News she was sexually abused for all of seventh grade and part of eighth grade.
“It’s just all very traumatic,” she said of her abuse. “I don’t know that there would ever be an amount that would make that better or worth it because I can’t speak for anybody but myself. I would have done anything to not have survived that, and just have had a regular middle school experience.”
She said she has gone through years of legal mediation and has had to revisit her trauma in legal proceedings. In her view, this needed to happen so that she and other abuse survivors could move on.
“I need peace,” she told KOB 4 News. “I need closure, and I need to know that in some way, that it’s been settled.”
The archdiocese said it “remains vigilant” and has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy towards sex abuse for over 25 years. It follows the child protection procedures of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, including background checks for prospective employees and “regular and frequent” safe environment training for every employee and volunteer.
“This is to provide a safe environment for the young people in the Catholic community,” the archdiocese said.
In 2021, the archdiocese aimed to sell off over 700 properties to help pay off settlements. Most properties were small vacant lots, fields, or grazing land donated to the archdiocese by families.
In August 2020, the archdiocese listed the vacant St. Francis Cathedral School in downtown Santa Fe for $3.6 million. It sold for $4.75 million in June 2021 to former golf pro Racquel Huslig, who is now a real estate developer, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported last year.
Last year’s annual report by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection, covering the time period from July 2019 through June 2020, found that there were under two dozen recent cases of abuse reported, only about 25% of which had been substantiated so far. At the same time, over 4,200 new allegations of historic abuse were reported, concerning victims who are now legal adults and incidents years or decades ago.
Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continued to show a bell curve that peaks in the 1970s. The report said that since 2014, total costs to U.S. dioceses related to responding to sexual abuse claims, including settlements and attorneys’ fees, were close to $312 million.
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