Christian Brothers Order Files for Bankruptcy, Cites Sex-abuse Lawsuits

By Gary Stern
Journal News
April 30, 2011|topnews|text|News

The Christian Brothers, the venerable, New Rochelle-based Catholic order that runs Iona College and more than two dozen secondary schools, has filed for bankruptcy and may have to begin selling off properties.

The order has agreed in recent years to pay tens of millions of dollars to sex-abuse victims and is still facing dozens of claims related to scandals in the Seattle area and Canada.

The Christian Brothers are the second Catholic order in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy. The Jesuits in the Northwest region did so in 2009 as it faced some 200 pending abuse claims.

Eight dioceses have also filed for bankruptcy since 2004.

The Christian Brothers Institute, a nonprofit corporation based in New Rochelle, filed for Chapter 11 on Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

Court filings note that the Christian Brothers need bankruptcy protection because of "numerous sexual abuse lawsuits" in Washington state and St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

"The lawsuits continue to drain the Debtor's not unlimited financial resources," the papers say.

The Christian Brothers maintains it needs a breathing spell to resolve abuse claims and to "liquidate assets in an orderly fashion to satisfy legitimate claims."

Court papers list $74 million in total assets, nearly all of it in real property.

Most abuse claims in the Seattle area date from the 1940s to the 1960s and are connected to the long-closed Briscoe Memorial School near Kent, Wash., an orphanage-turned-boarding school.

During the 1990s, the Christian Brothers also reached multimillion-dollar settlements with about 90 people who were abused at a now-closed orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland.

"These were very vulnerable children, who were removed from their parents or had no parents, and had no voice," said Seattle lawyer Michael Pfau, who has reached settlements worth $25.6 million on behalf of 50 victims in the Seattle area. "They were preyed upon by the Christian Brothers."

Pfau said he has 10 cases pending, but court dates will be postponed because of the bankruptcy filing.

"The Christian Brothers need time to liquidate land holdings," he said.

The Christian Brothers was founded in 1802 in Ireland by Edmund Ignatius Rice and came to the U.S. in 1906. In l996, Pope John Paul II beatified Rice.

The order once had 1,500 brothers serving in the U.S. but now has only 247, and their average age is nearly 69.

Only three men are preparing to enter the community across North America.

In a statement, the order said its trustees voted unanimously to file for reorganization "after engaging in 'extensive, prayerful and difficult' deliberation."

A spokesman declined to comment further. Iona College referred questions to the order.

The Christian Brothers have been dealing with the fallout from sexual abuse for some time.

In 1998, the order offered a public apology for sexual and other forms of abuse committed over decades at its institutions in Ireland. The order once ran more than 100 schools and eight orphanages in Ireland.


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