Denouncing Clergy Sex Abuse, Santa Fe Archdiocese Files $121 Million Settlement Plan

The archdiocese has stressed its efforts to remain vigilant towards sex abuse and its dedication to child protection procedures.

(photo: Cocoabiscuit via Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0) / (CC BY NC ND 2.0))

Lamenting the damage that abusive Catholic clergy have caused to sexual abuse victims, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has submitted its reorganization plan to a bankruptcy judge. The plan includes a proposed $121.5 million settlement for victims, and disclosure of Church documents about sexual abuse.

“For many years, clergy members within the Church violated the sacred trust placed in them by families, children, and the Church by committing acts of sexual abuse,” the Archdiocese of Santa Fe said in one bankruptcy filing on Oct. 11. “This was left unaddressed for decades. Survivors of abuse were ignored, called liars, shamed and felt abandoned by their Church. This conduct is contrary to the teaching and traditions of the Church.”

The archdiocese had announced the massive proposed settlement in May but submitted the filings on Tuesday, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Six insurers will cover $46.5 million of the $121.5 million from the Santa Fe archdiocese. The archdiocese’s portion of the bill is $75 million, including a $5.4 million promissory note that must be paid by March 31.

The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, which was facing about 80 claims in New Mexico State Court, will contribute $4 million by itself. It will contribute another $7.85 million in combination with three religious orders that have faced civil lawsuits for clergy abuse.

There are nearly 400 clergy sexual abuse victims involved in the settlement. Some incidents of abuse date back more than 60 years. When the archdiocese first filed for bankruptcy in November 2018, it faced only 35 to 40 active claims.

In a separate disclosure statement, the archdiocese added: “It is impossible to overstate the tragedy of the abuse that was inflicted on the children and teenagers of the archdiocese.”

“The abuse was perpetrated by priests or others purporting to do the missionary work of the Roman Catholic Church,” it said. “Instead of fulfilling their missions, those perpetrators inflicted harm and suffering.”

CNA contacted the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Servants of the Paraclete for comment but did not receive a response by publication.

Lawyers for abuse survivors have said previous Catholic Church leaders in New Mexico covered up sexual abuse and transferred abusive priests to different parishes.

The archdiocese has stressed its efforts to remain vigilant towards sex abuse and its dedication to child protection procedures. Its zero tolerance policy for abuse is more than 25 years old.

The settlement plan means a larger financial distribution to abuse victims who have filed claims than “any reasonably available alternative,” the archdiocese said in its filings.

The Santa Fe archdiocese’s website lists credibly accused clergy who worked in the archdiocese. There are 29 clergy listed as living, out of 80 on the list. There are another nine priests credibly accused of abuse in other dioceses but who spent time working in the Santa Fe archdiocese.

The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, now based in Missouri, was founded in Jemez Springs, New Mexico in 1947 to help treat troubled priests and religious brothers, including those struggling with alcoholism or pedophilic inclinations. It once ran a facility in Jemez Springs which worked with the archdiocese to send troubled priests to minister at churches and schools as part of a rehabilitation program, but this allowed some to offend again.

The settlement plan would require the archdiocese to turn over documents about clergy sexual abuse for public inspection at the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library. Victims’ names and identifying information would be redacted.

Additionally, the plan would establish a separate trust for currently unknown claims.

Approval of the plan depends on whether it gains the approval of two-thirds of abuse survivors who have filed claims.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma would then be asked to approve the plan.

Brad Hall, an Albuquerque attorney who has represented 145 Church abuse survivors in the bankruptcy case, told the Albuquerque Journal that sex abuse survivors could see financial allocations by December at the earliest, four years after Chapter 11 proceedings began. Hall said this represents “the possibility of some closure for long-suffering people who were badly hurt as children.”

The settlement will be funded by the archdiocese, its parishes, other Catholic entities, and the insurance carriers of the archdiocese. Parishes have collectively agreed to contribute “significant amounts” to help fund the settlement plan. In May the archdiocese said that parish participation in the plan will help relieve parishes of financial burdens from any current or future lawsuits.

In an Oct. 7 message on the archdiocese's website, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s vicar general the Father Glenn Jones said the archdiocese met its $65 million fundraising goal by Sept. 30. Its final goal is to collect another $10 million by March 31. He noted that many employees at parishes and archdiocesan offices have lost their jobs to secure funds to pay for the bankruptcy.

“To reach our goal, we’ve had to rely on some pretty hefty loans that we’ll be paying on for several years, but with God’s grace, we will one day start with a clean financial slate,” Jones said, adding, “Child abuse is a cancer in any society or organization; let us always pray and strive to prevent it from happening ever again.”

In 2021, the archdiocese aimed to sell off over 700 properties to help pay off settlements. Most properties were small vacant lots, fields, or grazing land donated to the archdiocese by families. Last year the archdiocese sold the vacant St. Francis Cathedral School in downtown Santa Fe for $4.75 million.

Reports from the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection say that there are few recent cases of sexual abuse of minors, but many historic allegations are reported each year. The reports indicate that abuse incidents peaked in the 1970s. Since 2014, U.S. dioceses’ costs in responding to sexual abuse claims run into hundreds of millions of dollars.