The Catholic Church in US territory of Guam is filing for bankruptcy to cope with the $115 million in lawsuits they are facing from survivors of sexual abuse.
Last week, on Wednesday, Archbishop Michael Byrnes announced at a news conference that, "this path will be bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims. That's the heart of what we're doing."
"Over the last two years, we've done our best. We've strengthened our policies for a safe environment. We've educated over 2,000 people in the practices of safe environment protection of minors. We've made a lot of great strides," Byrnes said.
"But our biggest issue is the almost 200 victim survivors of sexual abuse."
Yes, nearly 200 victims of sexual abuse committed by the Catholic clergy in Guam.
Leander James is an attorney working with some of the victims. In a statement, James said, "We welcome the announcement. Bankruptcy provides the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims."
One important thing that James noted was that this decision will create a deadline for victims to come forward and file claims.
"This bankruptcy filing will automatically stop any further action in the lawsuits that have been filed, and it will create a deadline for all Guam clergy abuse victims to file claims," James said. "It will be important for those who have not come forward to do so and file their claim."
Another attorney representing victims, Anthony Perez, pointed out that the bankruptcy does not mean the archdiocese will have to close its doors.
"Just because the archdiocese is filing for bankruptcy does not mean it will go out of business," Perez said. "In my discussions with attorneys from my team with extensive experience in these types of bankruptcies, this filing will allow the archdiocese to reorganize and still be operational after the claims are paid and the bankruptcy is closed."
That tracks with other similar stories. Back in June I wrote about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which also had to declare bankruptcy and reorganize in order to pay out the $210 million in settlements they owed abuse survivors. That case involved 450 victims.
Michael Byrnes took over as archbishop in Guam back in October, 2016. Before that, Anthony Apuron served as archbishop, but Apuron was removed by Pope Francis in June, 2016 after accusations that Apuron abused altar boys in the 1970's when he was a priest.
Since then, Apuron's own nephew has also accused Apuron of raping him around the year 1990.
The Vatican ruled in March, 2018 that Apuron was guilty, but Apuron, through his lawyer, announced within hours that he would be appealing the Vatican's ruling.
Pope Francis is reportedly considering Apuron's appeal. In the meantime, the Vatican has forbidden Apuron from returning to Guam.
You can find all my coverage of the Roman Catholic Church's ongoing sex abuse scandals here. As more victims come forward with truly horrifying stories of abuse we learn more and more about the church's pattern of protecting priests and hiding the truth over the years.
For these victims to come forward and hold the clergy responsible is incredibly brave. I hope that this decision can bring them some measure of comfort and help them move forward.