Diocese of Gallup, N.M., poised to file for bankruptcy protection

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Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, N.M., is pictured outside his residence in Gallup Oct. 20, 2011. The bishop heads a diocese that covers more than 55,000 square in northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, serves close to 62,000 Catholics out of a total population of about 495,000, and is home to seven Native American tribes. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, N.M., is pictured outside his residence in Gallup Oct. 20, 2011. The bishop heads a diocese that covers more than 55,000 square in northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, serves close to 62,000 Catholics out of a total population of about 495,000, and is home to seven Native American tribes. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

GALLUP, N.M. (CNS) — When James Wall was installed by the Vatican as Bishop of the Diocese of Gallup in 2009, he knew there were festering issues regarding allegations of priest sex abuse, but not to the extent that has brought the sprawling southwestern diocese to the doors of U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

At Masses throughout the diocese Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, shocked parishioners were pre-emptively read a letter from Bishop Wall that in the face of insurmountable law suits the diocese intends to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Bishop Wall set no date for the court filing in his letter.

Seven other U.S. dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection in the aftermath of sexual abuse lawsuits.

“While some of the claims relate to times when the diocese had some insurance, many relate to times when the diocese does not appear to have had insurance or the insurance is limited and not likely to cover the damages for which the diocese might be found liable,” Bishop Wall wrote. “Given the financial circumstances of the diocese, I have come to the conclusion that the only fair, equitable and merciful way to balance these obligations is by filing a Chapter 11 reorganization.”

Merritt Selleck, a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church, told Catholic News Service he was disappointed by the announcement but felt it may be the right step to take.

“I don’t think the bishop had much of choice given the number of lawsuits the diocese is facing,” Selleck said.

The Diocese of Gallup in northwestern New Mexico is the poorest diocese in the U.S., said Father Tim Farrell, diocesan spokesman, and includes the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and parts of the Apache Reservations.

The strategy, Bishop Wall explained in his letter, will give the diocese the opportunity to present a reorganization plan that provides for a fair and equitable way to compensate those who were sexually abused as children by church workers and ministers as well as anyone who has not yet come forward with allegations of abuse but may do so in the future.

“I firmly believe that the process of Chapter 11 is the best and only way that will allow us to work constructively with all those who suffered from the sexual abuse,” Bishop Wall said.

Bishop Wall could not be reached for comment. It has not been released as to when the filing will occur or how much in damages the diocese is facing.

By Joseph J. Kolb, Catholic News Service 

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