Brothers Order Files for Bankruptcy, Cites Sex-abuse Lawsuits
By Gary Stern
April 30, 2011
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
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,"
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
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
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.