In Archdiocese bankruptcy case, creditors committee wants clergy abuse documents to be made public
James Adams had helped run the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ fundraising arm for years, even serving as president of its board of directors, when his lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at the hands of a Metairie priest compelled him to step down nearly two months ago.
Now, Adams leads a different board: one formed after the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections May 1, tasked with representing the interests of those who say they are owed money by the church, including fellow clergy abuse claimants.
While securing financial compensation for abuse victims and other creditors is the committee's key aim, it also intends to fight for the disclosure of documents outlining exactly how the church handled priests and deacons faced with child molestation allegations, Adams said during an interview that marked the first time he publicly identified himself as a clergy abuse survivor.
“We want to know how this happened, how it was allowed to continue to happen, how these pedophiles ended up in the seminary to begin with,” said Adams, who recalls being a fifth-grader at the time of his abuse in 1980. “There’s a healing quality to having this information out there that really validates (the idea) that this was not your fault.”
Though he’s been reluctant to publicly share it, Adams’ story illustrates how some of those most deeply affected by the decades-old clergy abuse crisis were often people who built their identity around the church.
Adams received a Catholic education before growing up to become a local banker. As an adult, he became a volunteer board member of New Orleans’ Catholic Community Foundation, a nonprofit which solicits donations for the archdiocese’s schools, ministries and individual churches.
He said he clung to his faith even after a Spiritian order priest named James Collery, who is now dead, sexually abused Adams at St. Ann School in Metairie. Adams, 50, said he was too afraid to come forward until 2013, when he privately reported the assaults to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, for whom Adams had once served as an altar boy.
The archdiocese agreed to pay for several years of counseling for Adams. But in 2019, he asked for a settlement, finding it too humiliating to continue requesting payments each time he needed counseling.
“You still carry that shame, that embarrassment of it all,” Adams said.
After his efforts to obtain a settlement were unsuccessful, Adams sued on April 7 of this year. At the end of that month, he resigned as president of the Catholic Community Foundation, saying he felt pressured to step down.
Arguing the coronavirus pandemic and numerous clergy abuse lawsuits wrecked its finances, the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court last month. The complex process, which could take more than a year to unfold, essentially allows the archdiocese to reorganize its books while shielding them from creditors’ demands.
Part of that process involved the court appointing a committee of creditors who — besides helping dole out claimed debts or damages — promised to push for the public release of all documents describing the local church’s handling of the abuse crisis.
Six of the committees’ seven members are clergy abuse claimants who want to make sure the bankruptcy filing doesn’t derail the discovery of evidence, which va...