Parishes and Catholic schools are legally considered integral assets of the Archdiocese of Agaña, the federal court of Guam said in a ruling that might lift these entities’ protection from claims against the church.
“There is no evidence in this case that the parishes and schools are separately incorporated under Guam law,” Chief Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood stated in a ruling issued Friday. “The undisputed fact is that no parish or school is independently incorporated with the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation."
The archdiocese runs 10 schools and more than 20 parishes throughout the island.
"The varying levels of control and involvement of (the archdiocese) in the parishes’ and schools’ operations make clear that the parishes and schools are part of the (archdiocese) and that they are one and the same," the comayurt said.
The court cited for example the requirement for parishes and schools to seek the archdiocese's approval for any projects that cost more than $15,000 for renovation or more than $25 million for facility construction.
The court rejected the church’s argument that the assets of parishes and schools are held in trust that is not available to pay the claims of survivors of clergy abuse and other creditors.
The church is facing civil suits from nearly 280 individuals who alleged they were raped and molested by priests and others associated with the Catholic Church from the 1950s to as late as 2013. The archdiocese, which has filed a bankruptcy case, has proposed a $21 million payment plan.
In response to the court's decision, Archbishop Michael Byrnes maintained that parishes and schools are held only in trust by the archdiocese, and in particular by the archbishop in office at any particular time.
"The archdiocese is, however, heartened by the comments of Judge Tydingco-Gatewood in the latter part of the decision indicating that the parishes and schools may be beneficiaries of a resulting trust, since the archdiocese, as well as the parishes and schools, have made this argument throughout the proceeding," the statement read.
While that issue will ultimately be determined by the court in a subsequent proceeding, the archdiocese said it was encouraged by the court’s discussion of the resulting trust issue.
"While this decision has been argued and is pending, the Archdiocese has continued to engage in mediation with the survivors’ committee with the hopes that a consensual resolution of bankruptcy could be achieved while this matter remains before the court."
"The Archdiocese of Agaña affirms its commitment to providing the greatest measure of justice for the greatest number of survivors of clergy abuse on island. We are focused on negotiating a fair and equitable settlement to bring peace to the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. They have suffered deeply for many years."