Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

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When Lisa Ford and Brad Hall filed a case against the Santa Fe Archdiocese for John Doe in 2011, they just began to scratch the surface of a system of abuse at the hands of clergy and a coverup of those abuses. The lawyers say they learned about the vast knowledge within the Archdiocese of priests sexually abusing children.

By late 2018, Brad Hall, Lisa Ford and Levi Monagle had represented well over a hundred more survivors of Catholic priest abuse from all over Northern and Central New Mexico. The team also discovered that the 1990s litigation of hundreds of claims had used up most insurance and that the Archdiocese and various insurance companies also had agreements in place about any remaining cases.

Then, the Archdiocese filed its Chapter 11 Petition for Bankruptcy protection in order to reorganize at the end of 2018. Nearly 400 survivors came forward during the bankruptcy case.

Now, after a three-and-a-half-year battle, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe entered into an agreement of terms to settle its Chapter 11 reorganization case.

The settlement, in the total amount of $121.5 million, will be funded by the Archdiocese, the Parishes within the Archdiocese, other Catholic entities and the Archdiocese’s insurance carriers. The settlement funds will be used to compensate the 374 survivors of sexual abuse named in the lawsuit. It will not be used for lawyers’ fees and other expenses of the bankruptcy case, which will be paid from other funds. 

The negotiated settlement, which does not include settlement of any claims against any religious orders will be incorporated into a plan of reorganization that Survivors will have an opportunity to vote on.

“Through the hard work of the nine members of the Official Creditors Committee, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has been held accountable to Survivors. The tenacity and courage of New Mexico Survivors empowered us to reach a recommended settlement that addresses the needs of survivors on a timely basis. The bankruptcy process has been a lengthy one and, at the end of the day, survivors will receive an unheard of transparency into the history of the Archdiocese’s sexual abuse claims and fair compensation,” said Charles Paez, Chair of the OCC. 

In order for the parishes to continue operations and ministries, they have collectively and voluntarily agreed to contribute significant amounts in order to help the Archdiocese fund the settlement plan. Under the plan, these contributions will also relieve them financially of potential individual current or future lawsuits. Other parties named in the lawsuit have also agreed to contribute in return for the same protections.

A History of Protecting Abuse

In 2019, four lawsuits were filed against a now-shuttered Jemez Springs treatment facility for Roman Catholic priests that accused the facility of enabling known pedophiles from other states to reenter the priesthood in New Mexico and sexually abuse children here. The lawsuits alleged the Paraclete did not inform the parishioners, families or law enforcement when it placed a known pedophile in a new community.

Earlier that year, former priest Arthur Perrault was convicted of sexual crimes against children by a federal jury, the first ruling of its kind in New Mexico.

An Archive Of Sexual Abuse

The reorganization settlement also includes setting up an archive of information located at the University of New Mexico archives, documenting the abuses that took place within the Archdiocese, as well as prayer services and meetings with survivors of sexual abuse.

The Archdiocese says it will continue to follow the procedures of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Those procedures include background checks before hiring employees and annual safe-environment training for employees and volunteers within the Archdiocese.

The settlement terms will be incorporated into a plan to be filed with the bankruptcy court. Funds will be distributed toward survivors starting in October of this year.