Detroit Quietly Shielding Assets From Reach of Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 10, 2018   

Archbishop Vigneron sole owner of Mooney Real Estate Holdings, with millions in assets

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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Detroit archdiocese is transferring millions of dollars in assets to a private corporation, out of the reach of sex abuse lawsuits. The move comes in the midst of a criminal probe into the archdiocese over allegations of cover-up of predator clergy.

In March, the archdiocese established Mooney Real Estate Holdings, a 501(c)(3) corporation solely under the ownership of Abp. Allen Vigneron. The purpose of the corporation, among other things, is to "aqcuire, own, dispose of and deal with real and personal property" of the archdiocese, including all parishes, schools, cemeteries and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, as well as "other religious, charitable and educational organizations" within the archdiocese.

Parishes, schools and all other property traditionally owned by the archdiocese will no longer be owned by the archdiocese, but rather by the archbishop.

According to the articles of incorporation, "The sole member of the corporation is, ex officio, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdioese of Detroit." Membership is not transferable.

The rules explicitly disallow Mooney Real Estate Holdings from filing for bankruptcy or giving money to creditors without "the express written approval" of Abp. Vigneron. 

In practical terms, this means parishes, schools and all other property traditionally owned by the archdiocese will no longer be owned by the archdiocese, but rather by the archbishop, who has sole authority and power to direct the assets as he wills.

Church Militant has confirmed that the archdiocese has already started transferring millions of dollars in assets to Mooney Real Estate Holdings, preventing creditors and others — including victims of sex abuse in the archdiocese — from reaching any of the assets in legal settlements.

Church Militant has also confirmed that the archdiocese is establishing each individual parish as its own corporation — another method of shielding assets from the reach of sex abuse lawsuits.

Traditionally, abuse victims have been able to sue the priest as well as the archdiocese. Under the new regime in Detroit, this will no longer be possible. The abuse victim may only sue the priest and the parish where he ministered. The Detroit archdiocese will be out of reach — along with its millions in assets.


 

The Detroit archdiocese is the subject of a criminal investigation by the state attorney general, which raided the chancery on Oct. 3, gathering documents from the archdiocese's "Secret Archives." These archives hold confidential records of clerical misconduct, including sex abuse.

"This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt," said Bill Schuette in a statement in August. "My department and this investigation will find out who knew what and when."

The Detroit archdiocese will be out of reach — along with its millions in assets.

The law firm hired by the archdiocese to establish Mooney Real Estate Holdings is Bodman, PLC, one of the most well-established law firms in Michigan, and arguably the costliest, its top earners making more than $235,000 in salary.

The archdiocese is being criticized for lack of transparency by failing to publicly announce this significant shifting of assets, with its obvious impact on sex abuse victims, critics saying the archbishop's actions denote more of the same secrecy and cover-up so many dioceses have been guilty of for decades.

 

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