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  • By Bruce Lloyd

Guam's Archdiocese of Agana to declare bankruptcy

Operations of its local schools and parishes to continue

As long anticipated, the nearly $200 multi-million court cases alleging clergy sexual abuse against the island's Catholic Church and a number of its past clergy have led to plans to file for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. District Court. That filing is expected between mid-December and mid-January.

Efforts to reach a settlement with the claimants have yet to succeed. Only two of the many cases have been settled to date.

This is not a first for American Catholic churches. 19 other dioceses have made similar filings.

At a well attended news conference at the Diocese Chancery Office on San Ramon Hill Wednesday, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes said that the proceeding is, "a continuation of the good faith mediation protocol that the archdiocese has engaged in over the past year."

The financial distress impending for the church has led to efforts over the past two years to determine the assets and liabilities of the institution, including the value of what have been categorized as non-essential properties, including the Chancery and its grounds. As a formal statement put it, this will be "critical in providing transparency to the abuse claimants and the Catholic community."

On hand to meet with reporters was Idaho bankruptcy attorney Ford Elsaesser, who is representing the Archdiocese. Elsaesser has handled a number of similar cases.

Elsaesser said his experience suggests that the bankruptcy would not disrupt normal operations of the church, including its schools and parishes: "In my experience, which goes back to one of the first cases, the Diocese of Spokane, [Washington]. In that case I represented the parishes, not the diocese. The operations of the parish went forward without any interruption and we don't anticipate any reason, looking at the situation on Guam, why that wouldn't continue here for the Archdiocese of Agana."

Elsaesser further said, "Our experience with other diocese that have gone through the bankruptcy process indicates that the bankruptcy process works well for this purpose and allows full involvement and participation by the abuse claimants and their counsel."

"This is our commitment to the victim-survivors," said Archbishop Byrnes. "We're convinced that this path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of those victim-survivors. That's the heart of what we're doing."


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