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  • By Bruce Lloyd

Clergy abuse cases force Diocese of Agana to file bankruptcy

202 cases of clergy sexual abuse against diocese and the number may increase; Vatican named as co-defendant in recent cases

Archbishop Micheel Byrnes

Faced with the huge liability resulting from hundreds of clergy sexual abuse cases and the lawsuits they have led to, at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Agana (Guam) has filed a petition which is expected to lead to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. District Court

“Our motivation for going to this measure has been and still is our desire to bring the greatest measure of justice and consolation to those who have suffered at the hands of clergy,” Archbishop Michael Byrnes said. “We take responsibility for the sins of the past.”

Archbishop Michael Byrnes answers reporters questions during a press conference Wednesday. Bankruptcy attorney Ford Elsaesser explains the legal process entailing the Chapter 11 filing. Photos by Bruce Lloyd.

The archdiocese is facing more than 200 claims alleging sexual abuse by clergy and some lay persons.

“The archdiocese believes that Chapter 11 reorganization will allow the archdiocese to continue its mission of service to the community, while at the same time achieving the best possible result with regard to compensation for all victims of clergy abuse,” the archdiocese said in a press release.

At Wednesday’s press conference, bankruptcy attorney Ford Elsaesser walked reporters through a process that will require sale of "non-essential assets" that include the Chancery and its buildings, including the home of now Archbishop and Co-adjutor Michael Judge Byrnes. There will be mediation with the plaintiff/victims ahead and insurance companies will also play a role in the final settlement.

The 143 page filing, which was done electronically, spells out real property assets of the diocese, estimated at $22,962,000 and liabilities estimated to be $45,662,941.

Elsaesser, a veteran of numerous other church bankruptcy filings over the past 16 years said he expected that operations of parish schools and other functions would continue regardless of the bankruptcy.

Catholic schools and parishes will remain open, the archdiocese said. However, Byrnes emphasized the importance of everyone practicing extreme discipline, diligence and cooperation during this period of challenges and sacrifice.

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