ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Jan. 16 that it is filing for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the District of Minnesota to settle clergy sexual abuse lawsuits.
“I make this decision because I believe it is the fairest and most helpful recourse for those victims/survivors who have made claims against us,” Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis wrote on the archdiocesan website Jan. 16.
He said reorganization of the archdiocese will allow its resources “to be distributed equitably among all victims/ survivors. It will also permit the archdiocese to provide essential services required to continue its mission within this 12-county district.”
The archdiocese is the 12th U.S. diocese in the past several years that has filed for bankruptcy protection to settle sex abuse claims against clergy, religious and laypeople working for the church. Several of those dioceses that have since emerged from bankruptcy include Tucson, Arizona; Davenport, Iowa; Spokane, Washington; Wilmington, Delaware; and Portland, Oregon. Two religious communities also filed for bankruptcy protection: the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers.
With 825,000 Catholics, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is the second-largest U.S. Catholic Church jurisdiction to file for Chapter 11 reorganization, after the Diocese of San Diego, which has nearly 1 million Catholics, according to the 2014 Official Catholic Directory.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has 21 pending clergy sexual abuse cases, and faces the potential for more than 100 additional suits. Cases are now being brought forward because the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims was lifted under the Minnesota Child Victims Act signed into law in 2013.
According to the archdiocese, the cost to separately settle or go to trial with each pending or future claim is impossible to determine definitively. It said there is no telling how many additional claims could be made before the statute of limitations window closes next May. And although the archdiocese has insurance coverage, that coverage may not be available to pay every claim or the full amount of every claim.
In his letter, the archbishop said the bankruptcy filing does not affect parishes and schools.
He also said this action “will not in any way avoid our responsibilities to those who have been affected by clerical sexual abuse. This is not an attempt to silence victims or deny them justice in court. On the contrary, we want to respond positively in compensating them for their suffering.”
The archbishop said the bankruptcy decision was made “thoughtfully, prayerfully and collaboratively” and involved his consultation with experts in the field of bankruptcy, finance, insurance, civil and canon law, law enforcement, child sexual abuse and victim advocacy.
“They have advised me that Chapter 11 reorganization is the fairest and most helpful recourse for resolution of victims’ claims,” he wrote.
He stressed that the archdiocese would continue to care those who have been harmed by clergy sexual abuse and would “continue to facilitate the healing process for our local church in order to restore trust with the Catholic faithful.”
He also said the archdiocese will “work had to restore trust with our clergy, who are dedicated men deserving of our confidence and respect.”
Archbishop Nienstedt said there was still “a long journey ahead as we restore trust through humility, competency and transparency, in order to respond with compassion to all those who have been hurt, to continue to atone for sins that have been committed, and to foster healing.”
He added that the bankruptcy filing was an “important step on our way forward as a local church.”
Contributing to this story was staff at The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.