Judge in Catholic bankruptcy opposes church donations

A federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans withdrew in an overnight reversal that came a week after an Associated Press report showed he had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the archdiocese and in The case consistently ruled in favor of the church for nearly 500 victims of clerical sexual abuse.

This was initially announced by US District Judge Greg Guidry hours later AP report that he would remain with the case, citing the opinion of other federal judges that no “reasonable person” could question his impartiality. But under mounting pressure and persistent questions, he changed course late Friday in a tight, one-page filing.

“I have decided to withdraw from this matter to avoid any appearance of personal bias or prejudice,” Guidry wrote.

The 62-year-old solicitor has overseen the 3-year bankruptcy in an appeals role and his dismissal is likely to muddle the case, sparking new hearings and appeals against any follow-up decision he makes.

But legal experts say it was the only action to take in the circumstances, citing federal statutes that require judges to step aside in any proceeding where their “impartiality might reasonably be called into question.”

“This was a clear and obvious conflict that had been going on for some time,” said Joel Friedman, a longtime legal analyst in New Orleans who is now a law professor at Arizona State University. “It creates the very problem the rules are designed to avoid, the public impression that he is not an impartial decision-maker.”

Guidry’s rejection underscores just how tightly woven the church is into the city’s power structure, a coziness perhaps best exemplified when New Orleans Saints executives are the NFL secretly advised the Archdiocese on public relations at the height of its clergy abuse crisis.

The AP’s review of campaign finance records found that since Guidry was nominated for the federal bench by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, he has donated nearly $50,000 to local Catholic charities from leftover political donations from his decade as a Supreme Court Justice Louisiana donated. Most of that donation, $36,000, came in the months after the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020 amid a spate of sex abuse lawsuits.

Guidry also served on the board of directors of Catholic Charities, the archdiocese’s charitable arm, between 2000 and 2008, when the archdiocese was going through a previous spate of sex abuse lawsuits.

During the bankruptcy, Guidry frequently issued important decisions that changed the dynamics of the bankruptcy and benefited the archdiocese.

Just last month, he upheld a $400,000 sanction against Richard Trahant, a veteran clergy abuse advocate who was accused of violating a sweeping confidentiality order when he warned a local principal that his school had a had hired a priest who admitted to sexual abuse. He also rejected at least one request for unsealing secret church documentsPart of a treasure trove of records of clergy abuse in New Orleans going back decades.

Guidry referred the potential conflict to the Washington-based Committee on Codes of Conduct, which found that none of the charities he had donated to were or are “an actual party” in the bankruptcy.

It also found that Guidry’s eight years on the board of Catholic charities ended more than a decade before bankruptcy, and that his church dues accounted for less than 25% of the campaign funds he had available to donate.

“Based on that advice, and based on my confidence that I can be fair and impartial, I have decided not to retire,” Guidry told attorneys in the case April 21.

But it wasn’t clear what details Guidry shared with the committee, and he declined to release his advisory opinion. The statement also raised eyebrows because one of the judges Guidry consulted about the potential conflict, Jennifer Walker Elrod, is scheduled to hear an appeal against the bankruptcy in the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals next week.

“We have no reason to rely on that secret opinion because we have no idea what the analysis is,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, adding it was “absolute reasonable to question Guidry’s abilities impartially under the circumstances.”

“The public should not have to rely on a judge’s personal assurance of his or her own integrity,” Clark added. “The fact that he is making this claim at all shows how misguided and ethically blind this judge is.”


Mustian reported from New York.


Contact AP’s global investigative team at investigative@ap.org.


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