As long ago as July 2017, the Archdiocese of Agana was anticipating hard economic times in the future, compiling a list of non-essential assets that would go to settle the multi-million dollar clergy sexual abuse cases that were then pending. At the time, there were 85 such cases. Now, that number has climbed to nearly 200.
The apparent lack of success in settlement negotiations has now led to plans by the diocese to file for Chapter 11 reorganization /aka/ bankruptcy in U.S. District Court. That filing is expected between mid-December and mid-January.
In 2017 Richard Untalan of the Archdiocese Finance Council said the ‘non-essential’properties that could be sold to pay part of the eventual settlement included the former Hotel Accion, most recently home of the closed RMS seminary in Yona and—shocking to some at the time—the Chancery Complex at San Ramon Hill, home of the archbishop. “They’re on the block,” Untalan said. “In other words, they are available for whatever it is that is necessary to do by the settlement process that is currently going on,” maintaining as have other diocesan figures, that the lists were an indication of accountability and transparency. “We’re not hiding anything.”
Spared from the axe would be local churches and schools and their buildings and grounds. The building housing Kamalen Karidat (Catholic Social Services) has since been leased to the judiciary of Guam.
From the beginning of this process, Untalan and others involved with church finances have been unsparing in their criticisms of former Archbishop Anthony Apuron’s stewardship of church resources and assets. Months were spent digging through dusty folders and other records in an effort to figure out what the Guam church actually owns. The general description is of what Apuron left behind is, “a mess.”
The biggest ticket item among the assets is the former RMS seminary, which was closed down by Archbishop Byrnes. Many of the contents of the former hotel were recently sold to local buyers, with the revenue committed to maintaining the property.
The bankruptcy 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 in November, 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."
Idaho bankruptcy attorney Ford Elsaesser, who is representing the Archdiocese in the bankruptcy 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 dioceses 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."
There has been a little confusion about how the diocese is going to go about divesting itself of its assets. The Hotel Accion/RMS seminary property has been previously listed for sale by a local real estate firm, but in a later briefing, Elsaesser said the bankruptcy filing to come puts such actions on hold.
“Again, in the bankruptcy process, the sale process is very open, so we’ll first develop a strategy with the all the parties in the bankruptcy as to what the best approach is to get the best value for the properties. And we’ll devise a plan and take it to the bankruptcy judge and he or she decides if it’s an adequate sale. Any sale of real estate will go through a process that is all public and you’ll see it when everyone else sees it. There’s no, it’s all a very open process.” Ford Elsaesser
And as Archbishop Byrnes adds, there is another important party elsewhere requiring permission for sales. “When you alienate property from the diocese, you have to seek permission from the Vatican and we’ve already done that with the largest bulk of the properties. So we are cleared to make them available for sale. I wrote to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and informed them that we are pursuing bankruptcy.”
Meeting the demands to the satisfaction of those pursuing justice in the courts will require extracting the maximum from diocese resources and its insurers.
"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."
Guam Chancery Grounds. Blessed Diego de Marianas