The Roman Catholic Church on the American island of Guam is officially declaring financial failure, or bankruptcy. The move means the Church can avoid trial in more than 20 child sex abuse legal actions against its clergy.
Now, the two sides can seek settlements.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes made the announcement. He said that cost of the discussions between the Church and victims that began in September caused the bankruptcy.
"This path will bring the greatest measure of justice to the greatest number of victims," Byrnes said. "That's the heart of what we're doing."
Byrnes said the bankruptcy will provide "finality for victim survivors that they've been heard and understood."
Lawyer Leander James represents the reported victims. He said the decision will help settle more than 180 claims of abuse.
"We welcome the announcement," James said in a statement. "Bankruptcy provides the only realistic path to settlement of pending and future claims."
James says the bankruptcy will create a time limit for victims to take legal action.
Lawyer Anthony Perez is also representing victims. He says the bankruptcy does not mean the Roman Catholic Church in Guam will close. Instead, Perez said, the local offices can reorganize and remain operational after settlements are completed and the bankruptcy case is closed.
Earlier this year, the Roman Catholic Church removed from office the suspended leader of its Guam headquarters and ordered him to stay out of Guam. The Church found him guilty of charges connected to its own sex abuse trial.
The Church did not say what Archbishop Anthony Apuron was found guilty of nor has Guam’s government charged him with any crime.
Apuron is 72 years old.
Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after some people said Apuron had sexually abused them as children. Apuron denied the accusations. Similar accusations against other clergy followed. The local Church faces more than $115 million worth of legal actions.
Church lawyer Keith Talbot says two Guam cases have been settled.
Some Catholics on Guam said they were not surprised by the bankruptcy announcement.
"I knew it was going to happen," said 68-year-old Judith Salas. "Eventually they would have to pay."
I’m Susan Shand.
Reuters reported this story. Susan Shand this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
bankruptcy – n. a condition of financial failure caused by not having the money that you need to pay your debts
settlement – n. an amount of money that someone receives as part of such an agreement
pending - adj. something coming in the near future
alter – n. a platform or table used as a center of worship in Christian ceremonies and services