Catholic archdiocese in New Mexico, facing abuse cases, to file for bankruptcy

(Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, will file for bankruptcy protection as it faces litigation arising from accusations of sexual abuse by clergy, its archbishop said on Thursday.

The move comes nearly three months after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas requested Catholic church officials in the state, including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, provide his office with documents related to possible abuse by priests.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, especially with minors, have roiled dioceses across the United States and in other countries.

Balderas made his request after the Pennsylvania attorney general in August issued an 884-page report that contained graphic examples of children who were groomed and sexually abused by Catholic clergymen.

The Pennsylvania report described how church officials sent a number of priests accused of sexual abuse to a Catholic treatment center in New Mexico from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Separately, a number of sexual abuse lawsuits have been brought against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Among them were five lawsuits filed earlier this month, which detailed accusations of abuse between the 1950s and the 1980s, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

The archdiocese will file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next week, but is committed to providing financial compensation to victims, including those who will come forward in the future, Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester said in a statement.

“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 just compensation,” Wester said.

The reorganization will give the archdiocese an equitable way to fulfill its responsibility to abuse survivors and ensure continued operation of parishes, schools and other critical missions, he said.

Michael Norris, a spokesman for the New Mexico chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the planned bankruptcy was not fair to victims.

“They want to keep their parishes and schools operational instead of focusing on making sure the victims are OK,” he said.

The archdiocese of Santa Fe will join about 20 Catholic religious organizations in the United States, including the diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, that have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Child sex abuse litigation has cost the Catholic Church in the United States billions of dollars in settlements in the two decades since a series of molestation cases were uncovered in Boston in 1992.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Darren Schuettler