An Albuquerque attorney representing dozens of sexual abuse victims says Archbishop John C. Wester can’t state with confidence St. Pius X High School will avoid sale in bankruptcy proceedings.
Levi Monagle said Friday it’s too early to know which properties will be sold and which won’t while the Archdiocese of Santa Fe raises money to pay off hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
Wester wrote in a letter to constituents last month he was “pleased to announce that the St. Pius X campus will not be lost in that process!”
The contradicting views of the possible fate of St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque suggest an agreement won’t come soon in the effort to compensate about 385 people who have claims of abuse, many dating back decades.
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2018 because of the financial strain from paying victims and the costs ahead to pay more victims. Many other dioceses in the country have filed for bankruptcy in recent years, including the Diocese of Gallup. That case, involving close to 60 victims, was settled about five years ago.
The Gallup diocese has said its bankruptcy process designated $22 million for survivors, plus counseling and other concessions.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has sold some properties and hired an auctioneer to try to sell 732 others to raise money. Most of those are properties of a couple of acres or less, many donated to the church.
Wester said last month teachers and staffers were being hired for the fall at St. Pius X High School and student enrollment was being processed. He acknowledged there had been concern about what would happen to the school, but his letter indicated that was alleviated through fundraising and the work of the St. Pius X Foundation.
“The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has the duty and responsibility to come up with the funds we agreed to and that is what we are doing,” Wester said in an email Friday.
Monagle said the archdiocese must reach a specific dollar figure in the bankruptcy case, which he wouldn’t disclose. The archdiocese has made commitments to survivors, the attorney said, and “until those commitments are met, all diocesan assets are on the table.”
Monagle said he is glad to some degree Wester feels he can settle the matter without selling St. Pius X High School. “Maybe he knows something that I don’t know about how the archdiocese is planning to fulfill its commitments.”
But Monagle, who represents more than 140 victims, said he is “just as involved in these negotiations as anybody.”
He said the figure that must be raised is “pretty big” and “also easily justifiable.”
“I mean, we’re talking about unimaginable multigenerational suffering,” he said. He also said the archdiocese will work with its insurance carriers, and there is always tension in those situations.
The insurers will strive to limit their payouts, and the archdiocese will seek to maximize the carriers’ contributions, Monagle said, so a huge chunk of the burden won’t fall on the archdiocese itself.
“That’s up to the insurance companies and the archdiocese at this time,” he said.
Vicar General Glennon Jones of the archdiocese had written two months ago on the entity’s website that if the bankruptcy fails to go through, “nothing is safe from liquidations for legal costs and lawsuit settlements — churches, halls, schools. Nothing.”
In the same missive, Jones said the archdiocese was “making pretty fair progress in raising the funds needed for our bankruptcy settlement.”
Monagle said he remains optimistic they will reach the finish line. The patient approach is the best way to get it done and with the best terms possible, he said. “If they can’t get it over the line, then all bets are off.”
Monagle said he was “not impugning the efforts of the archdiocese” in the case. “I’m not trying to say that I know one way or another” what will happen to St. Pius X School, he said.
“I represent abuse survivors, and this bankruptcy is still a highly active, heavily negotiated process.”