Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery
On Wednesday, November 7th, Guam Catholic Church announced its next move regarding pending lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by priests. The Church will file for bankruptcy in order to avoid trial in dozens of lawsuits and eventually move toward settlements. The Church first entered mediation talks with lawyers representing children sexually abused by priests in order to try and settle the cases outside of court and to avoid what would most likely be lengthy trials. According to Guam's Archbishop Michael Byrnes the mediation efforts that began in September led the church to bankruptcy. "This path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims," Byrnes said as Fox news reports. "That's the heart of what we're doing." Byrnes said the bankruptcy will provide "finality for victim survivors that they've been heard and understood."
The U.S.territory of Guam, where almost everyone is Catholic, has been under fire because of claims that former archbishop and other priests of Guam Catholic Church abused children. Former Archbishop, Anthony Apuron, was accused of sexually abusing young men and found guilty of some of the charges against him by a Vatican tribunal. Apuron was suspended and removed from office while being exiled from the island but the verdict did not specify which allegations the archbishop was found guilty of.
Meanwhile, dozens of cases of child sexual abuse have come to light involving other priests on the island and the Catholic Church has been ripped apart by those allegations, leaving the archdiocese of Guam with more than $115 million in lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by priests.
It looks like the only way to settle all of these pending and possible future claims is through bankruptcy. Attorneys who are representing victims in those cases are also welcoming the archdiocese's move. According to Fox news, attorney Leander James, who is working with alleged victims in Guam, said in a statement the move will help resolve current lawsuits from more than 180 claims of abuse through settlements.
"We welcome the announcement," James said in a statement. "Bankruptcy provides the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims." James says the bankruptcy will create a deadline for victims to file claims. "This bankruptcy filing will automatically stop any further action in the lawsuits that have been filed, and it will create a deadline for all Guam clergy abuse victims to file claims," James said. "It will be important for those who have not come forward to do so and file their claim."