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New Mexico archdiocese to file for bankruptcy over sex abuse

The Associated Press
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Archbishop John C. Wester, head of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, tells reporters the diocese will be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection next week as clergy sex abuse claims have depleted its reserves. He made the announcement during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced Thursday that it will soon be filing for bankruptcy protection, as the Catholic church in New Mexico has settled numerous claims of sexual abuse by clergy over the years and is close to depleting its reserves.

About 20 dioceses and other religious orders around the U.S. have filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of the claims, according to lawyers representing the archdiocese.

Archbishop John Wester said he had been contemplating the action for years but that the archdiocese had reached a tipping point and he wanted to ensure there would be resources to provide compensation for victims.

“I wish to make clear that our first and foremost concern is the victims of sexual abuse and our desire to do all we can to provide for their compensation,” he told reporters. “Reorganization helps us to provide an equitable manner, especially for those who could come forward in the future as well as those who have already taken the courageous step of making a claim.”

Wester acknowledged a charged atmosphere, pointing to the clergy sex abuse investigation in Pennsylvania and other cases that have garnered national attention. He said the archdiocese has about three dozen cases and he said there will likely be more.

The announcement came as the state Attorney General’s Office served a pair of search warrants Wednesday seeking documents related to two former New Mexico priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

The warrants, made public Thursday, describe in graphic detail the sexual abuse endured by children years ago at the hands of the two priests.

The warrants were based on the statements of two unidentified victims and a confidential informant who provided information about the church not following through on settlements and giving ultimatums to victims. That included threats of stopping paid treatment if victims went to authorities with their claims or sought help from doctors that weren’t referred by the church.

Church officials said Wednesday that they provided records on the two former priests to the attorney general’s office and that their staff would continue to cooperate with prosecutors and law enforcement, but prosecutors said the records were only provided after serving the search warrant.

Letters exchanged between prosecutors and lawyers for the archdiocese show they have been at odds over access for months.

State prosecutors in September asked to review personnel records for any material that might be related to past or present allegations of abuse. Letters seeking “full disclosure and transparency” were sent to the archdiocese as well as church leaders in Las Cruces and Gallup.

The request came in the wake of a grand jury report that said more than 300 Catholic priests abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. That report said senior figures in the church hierarchy systematically covered up complaints.

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