Tucson – As Pope Francis prepares for his upcoming visit to the U.S., Catholic bishops in the Southwest are preparing to face financial ruin, after a sex abuse scandal that involved nearly 60 victims now seeking compensation.
The Diocese of Gallup, which includes 53 parishes in both Northeastern Arizona and Northwestern New Mexico, is liquidating over 120 properties in two court-ordered auctions to cover for the victims.
Most of the properties being auctioned were donated from parishioners – New Mexico court documents show the diocese’s assets to be “virtually non-existent.” In fact, the Diocese of Gallup filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
To date, more than a dozen Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States have filed bankruptcy to seek protection in sexual abuse lawsuits, a move that some advocates say has to do more with secrets than finances.
“It puts a complete stop to all civil litigation, and it’s through civil lawsuits that the truth is exposed about clergy who committed child sex crimes and clergy who are concealing child sex crimes,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, to Fox News Latino.
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“When there is enough scandal and enough victims coming forward, bishops go racing into bankruptcy court and shut down the whole disclosure process,” he said, “so those who enable the crimes, not those who committed them, are in fact still on the job.”
Realtor Hank Amos, who helped liquidate the assets of the now bankrupt Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, is now handling the Arizona auctions with Tucson Realty and Trust Company.
“The Diocese properties […] are absolute. So whatever they sell for, they sell for. And you get title right away,” said Amos.
With several in-demand properties on the auction block, victims could see a substantial payday. And while money doesn’t necessarily equal justice, advocates say it is a start to the healing process.
“No amount of money can restore the stolen childhoods, the shattered trust, and the often times decades of self-destructive aftereffects of the abuse [but] any outside confirmation of the fact that we have suffered and are suffering is helpful,” said Clohessy.
Diocese of Gallup’s Bishop James S. Wall insists his organization is only interested in producing justice.
“The survivors who have come forward should be commended for their bravery and courage,” said Bishop Wall in a statement, “and I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who violated the trust of the survivors and the parishioners within the Diocese by committing these terrible acts,” he continued.
The Diocese of Gallup posted the names of over 30 clergymen they say are credibly accused of abusing children between the 1950s and the 1980s, many of whom are now deceased.
The first property auction will take place in Phoenix on Sept. 12th.
Aalia Shaheed is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the program here and follow them on Twitter: @FNCJrReporters