A Minnesota archdiocese has offered to pay $132 million to settle hundreds of child sex abuse claims against its clergy under a revised bankruptcy reorganization plan filed in court on November 15. A previously offered sum of $65 million was rejected by the plaintiffs. The new sum is more than double that amount. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is led by the prelature of an archbishop which administers the archdiocese from the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The archdiocese, one of 15 U.S. Catholic districts and religious orders driven to seek Chapter 11 protection by the church's sex abuse scandal, said its plan would mark the second-largest such bankruptcy settlement of pedophile priest claims in America.
When a business is unable to service its debt or pay its creditors, the business or its creditors can file with a federal bankruptcy court for protection under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11. In Chapter 7, the business ceases operations. A trustee sells all of its assets, and then distributes the proceeds to its creditors. Any residual amount is returned to the owners of the company. In Chapter 11, in most instances the debtor remains in control of its business operations as a debtor in possession, and is subject to the oversight and jurisdiction of the court.
In 2007, the San Diego diocese settled sex abuse claims for a total of $198 million after filing for Chapter 11. The nation’s largest archdiocese in Los Angeles reached a $660 million civil settlement the same year but it was not part of a bankruptcy proceeding. Those agreements amounted to about $825,000 and $780,000 per victim, respectively, according to the watchdog website BishopAccountability.org.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Mike Finnegan said that in the Twin Cities claims, each victim stands to gain less than $300,000 under the archdiocese's new plan. That’s why lawyers representing the bulk of nearly 450 claims in St. Paul-Minneapolis denounced the latest proposal as still far too small and also accused church officials of trying to conceal their ability to pay much more by filing for Chapter 11. Finnegan said Tuesday's settlement offer was structured to minimize the church's financial hit.
Archdiocese attorney Charles Rogers countered that the proposal would rank as the largest reported insurance settlement of any U.S. Catholic sex abuse case to date, even though one insurer involved was itself undergoing bankruptcy.
Nine years ago, Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote that “those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts … formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin.” It’s hardly surprisingly, then, that Nienstedt was under investigation for having sex with other priests.
Curtis Wehmeyer, 50, was sentenced in 2013 for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. He is in prison in Minnesota, and he has been charged with sex crimes in Wisconsin.
This is why, more than a year ago, government officials came down on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The next hearing on the matter, focused on financial disclosure, is set for December 15.
Photo Credits: The Orate Fratres