Chapter 11: Catholic Diocese of New Ulm files for bankruptcy
NEW ULM — The Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, which includes 15 west central Minnesota counties, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday morning.
The action was taken in response to 101 lawsuits filed against the diocese and some parishes in the diocese by victims and survivors of child sex abuse perpetrated by clergy.
The diocese said financial reorganization was the "fairest way to resolve sexual abuse claims" and to carry out the mission of the church.
If cases were resolved on a "piecemeal basis" available assets could be "exhausted in the first few cases, leaving nothing for other claimants," said Bishop John LeVoir.
LeVoir said the focus of the settlement is on the victims and survivors who have "endured years and even decades of pain" and whose wounds are "very, very deep."
Many of the alleged claims of sex abuse happened between the 1950s and 1970s.
Sexual abuse survivors advocated for the diocese to release the names of credibly accused priests who worked in the Diocese of New Ulm. In March 2016, the diocese agreed to release the names of 16 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse.
Most of the priests named in the claims are deceased and none of the priests accused of abuse are currently in parish ministry in the diocese, according to LeVoir.
The Diocese of New Ulm is the 16th Catholic Diocese or Religious Order to file for bankruptcy in the United States.
In 2015, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Duluth filed for bankruptcy protection.
"The bankruptcy filing does not stop the pursuit of justice for sexual abuse survivors," said Attorney Mike Finnegan, who has filed lawsuits against the church on behalf of survivors and victims.
"Survivors will continue to seek truth and accountability in the bankruptcy process," Finnegan said.
LeVoir said he is thankful that victims and survivors came forward to talk about their abuse to "keep the church accountable" and to prevent similar situations from happening again.
"It takes great courage to tell their stories," he said. "They deserve not only our compassion, but also fair compensation to help them in their healing."
LeVoir apologized to the victims and survivors "from the bottom of my heart" and urged parishioners to pray for the victims and survivors.
Because the diocese is a separate corporation from local churches under Minnesota law, LeVoir said the financial reorganization will not affect parishes, Catholic schools or other Catholic organizations located in the geographic area served by the Diocese.
LeVoir said the mission of the church will continue to be carried out and the pastoral needs of people in local parishes will continue to be met.
In a letter sent to registered church members in the diocese explaining the process to file for bankruptcy, LeVoir said the decision was not easy.
LeVoir said after "months of prayer" and consulting with advisers he is confident financial reorganization is the right decision.
In an interview with the Tribune, LeVoir said besides the letter being sent to parishioners, priests will read a letter from him during Sunday services explaining the issue.
Information is also available on the diocesan newsletter and website, www.DNU.org
The diocese includes nearly 55,000 members, 75 parishes and 18 Catholic schools in the 15-county area, including Big Stone, Brown, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Nicollet, Redwood, Renville, Sibley, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties.