The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis plans to ask a bankruptcy trustee for permission to sell some of its most well-known real estate, including the archbishop’s residence and chancery building, where top archdiocese officials have worked for decades.
Both of the Summit Avenue buildings stand across from the towering St. Paul Cathedral, and have been at the heart of the archdiocese operations.
Tom Mertens, the archdiocese’s chief financial officer, told a bankruptcy court creditors’ committee Tuesday that the church is considering selling four properties to help pay its bankruptcy debts.
The other properties are the Hayden Center just blocks away on Kellogg Boulevard, and the Dayton Building, which is adjacent to the St. Paul Cathedral and houses archdiocese staff.
About 150 archdiocese staff could be affected by a sale.
The properties have a combined value of at least $10 million. Archdiocese documents filed in bankruptcy court listed the value of the chancery and the archbishop’s residence — which are connected — at $6.3 million. The Hayden Center was valued at $2.4 million and the Dayton Building at $1.4 million.
Mertens stressed that a sale is not necessarily imminent.
“This does not mean we will sell the buildings,” Mertens said. “It simply means we are asking permission to explore the possibility. We would have to find a viable buyer, as well as get permission from various internal boards … This is a very preliminary step, and just one step, in the process of reorganization.”
Mertens said no decisions have been made about where the archbishop would live, or where church staff would work, if the sales went through.
Twin Cities Catholics who advocate for children say the property sale may be unfortunate but necessary.
“I think our first obligation is the protection of children, and restitution to people who have been abused,” said Tim Power, a retired archdiocese priest and a member of the Twin Cities Voice of the Faithful, a national advocacy group focused on the protection of children.
“It’s going to sting a little bit,” Power said. “But the places mentioned are primarily places where some of the leadership offices are. People can do their jobs out of any office place.”
The archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy last month, had listed assets of at least $45.2 million, not including the Cathedral of St. Paul and other property whose value it has yet to establish.
The potential sale of some of that property was announced at the first meeting of the bankruptcy court’s creditors committee, during which attorneys for abuse victims represented questioned the archdiocese’s accounting of its wealth.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, for example, asked Mertens about the creation of the Catholic Service Appeals Foundation, the archdiocese’s largest annual fundraiser, which became a separate nonprofit entity in 2013. It raised $9 million last year.
“The timing to us was suspicious,’’ said Mike Finnegan, Anderson’s legal partner.
Anderson also questioned the timing of some archdiocese payments in the weeks before it filed for bankruptcy, including $242,000 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops between Dec. 12, 2014, and Jan. 12, 2015.
“This was the first chance for us and for abuse survivors to start to scrutinize the archdioceses assets and its claims that it doesn’t have control over other archdiocese entities,” said Finnegan. “That is something we will continue in earnest.”
The U.S. Trustee appointed five men to the creditors committee. They are James Keenan, whose child sex abuse lawsuit against the archdiocese was thrown out by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2012 because of the statute of limitations; Marie Mielke, one of 16 abuse victims represented by Anderson who had lawsuits pending against the archdiocese before it declared bankruptcy; and James Heutmaker and Curt Raymond, who were among more than 110 people with pending notices of claim against the archdiocese before it declared bankruptcy. Further information on the fifth committee member, Joseph Egan, represented by attorney Patrick Noaker was not available.