GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) - Labor Day weekend became unexpectedly somber for parishioners throughout the Catholic Diocese of Gallup.
In a letter read in parishes across the Diocese, which spans New Mexico and Arizona, Bishop James Wall announced the diocese's intent to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Wall pointed to a growing pile of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by church workers, with some allegations dating back as far as the 1950's.
"We had maybe 10 cases pending and then suddenly it jumped up a lot," said Fr. Timothy Farrell, the Diocese's media liaison, in a phone interview. "I think it's about 20 cases now."
"Chapter 11 will provide for an orderly process by which those who have been harmed can make a claim, and for the Diocese to propose and confirm a plan that will compensate those who were abused while, at the same time, continue its ministry now and for the future," wrote Wall in his letter.
The Diocese of Gallup, which bills itself as the poorest in the country, would be the ninth Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 2004.
Farrell says filing for bankruptcy will prevent one victim from being massively compensated at the expense of others who may have similar claims.
"I have not taken this step to avoid responsibility for what happened or to hide anything," Wall wrote.
But Barbara Dorris with the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests says filing for bankruptcy will do just that.
"We see it as basically a cop out," Dorris told News 13 in a phone interview. "We don't feel the motivation here is protecting funds... we feel it is protecting their reputation protecting the secrets."
Dorris alleges the bankruptcy move keeps potentially damaging claims from being fleshed out in court, including any possible cover-ups by church higher ups of abuse.
"For victims to heal, for children to be protected and for the reputation of the church to be repaired, the truth needs to come out," Dorris said. "We need to know who knew what and at what times and what they did or didn't do."
Church leaders say they're not positive how much the Diocese could've been on the hook for without bankruptcy protection, but it could've been quite expensive. In 2007, the Los Angeles Diocese had to pay out $660 million to more than 500 abuse victims.
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