Archbishop Michael Byrnes on Sunday urged agencies and organizations under the Archdiocese of Agana to practice fiscal prudence in the wake the church’s bankruptcy.
“Filing for bankruptcy is a very humbling thing. However, in many ways, bowing our heads in humility is exactly what our Church on Guam needs right now,” Byrnes said in a message to the faithful.” Some may say it's been a long time coming.”
Faced with the huge liability resulting from more than 200 clergy sexual abuse claims, the Archdiocese on Jan. 16 filed a Chapter 11 petition in the District Court of Guam.
“We are doing this and other things in our archdiocese because there have been a great number of people - children at the time - who were gravely hurt by members of our church in the past and it is our responsibility to answer for it,” Byrnes said, describing the legal action as the “right path to justice” and “recovery.”
The 143-page legal briefs spelled out real property assets of the diocese, estimated at $22.96 million and liabilities estimated to be $45.6 million.
“Our hope is that Chapter 11 may be a means to bring complete transparency of our financial status to all our creditors and victims of abuse in such a way that all claimants are compensated to full extent possible while allowing the mission of our parishes and schools to continue,” Byrnes said.
Despite the Chapter 11 process, Catholic schools and parishes will remain open, the archdiocese said.
“It is clear that filing bankruptcy will affect how we do business. I must emphasize the importance for all archdiocesan organizations to practice discipline, and to comply with all financial and operational restrictions during this period of Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” Byrnes said.
While Chapter 11 may guide the process to settle the victims’ claims, the archbishop underscored the need for the church to reform.
“The trust that we have broken can only be restored through a genuine conversion of heart and systemic correction of our administrative and financial practices,” Byrnes said. “I ask for your support and prayers as we seek to bring a measure of justice and healing to our victims and to put in place measures that strengthen our accountability to civil authorities and the People of God in all our practices.”
Bankruptcy attorney Ford Elsaesser will represent the Archdiocese during the mediation with the claimants and insurance companies will also play a role in the final settlement.
The process that will require sale of "non-essential assets" that include the Chancery and its buildings.
“In the months ahead, our archdiocese will work earnestly with a number of groups in this journey toward justice, healing, and reorganization,” Byrnes said. “We will work closely with legal counsel of the numerous claimants, our banking institutions, our creditors, and others.”