The Archdiocese of Agana filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in the US District Court of Guam on Wednesday. The move will allow it to restructure its finances and pay off the plaintiffs in about 190 clergy sex abuse claims.
"Our motivation for going through this measure has been and still is our desire to bring the greatest measure of justice in consolation to those who suffered in the hands of the clergy. We take responsibility as a church for the sins of the past," Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes said in a news briefing reported by the Pacific Daily News.
An attorney representing the church, Ford Elsaesser, could not put a figure on the amount the church was hoping to raise but listed current assets at $22.9 million (€20 million) with liabilities of $45.6 million. The church also plans to sell real estate and add the proceeds to the settlement fund.
"It's never enough but we hope that at least we give some amount of justice to these victims," Byrnes said at the briefing.
Under the bankruptcy, the archdiocese would reorganize and pay the abuse claims while continuing its operations in parishes, schools, cemeteries and a soup kitchen.
Lawsuits have accused at least 22 priests and seven others associated with the church of child sex abuse.
Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Archbishop Anthony Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest in the 1970s. The 73-year-old Apuron has denied the allegations and has not been criminally charged.
A Vatican tribunal announced in March 2018 that it found Apuron guilty in a case involving child sex abuse allegations. He appealed the canonical trial conviction.
He is facing sex abuse lawsuits in local and federal courts on Guam. A $5 million lawsuit against him filed on Monday also named the Holy See and State of the Vatican City as defendants, as Apuron was an employee of the Vatican at the time of the alleged assaults.
Spanish colonizers set up the first Catholic church on Guam in 1668 and the US acquired the island territory in Micronesia after the Spanish-American war of 1898.