The Rochester diocese’s unique case

Rochester Beacon

Jan. 2, 2020

By Will Astor

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester’s bankruptcy—the 20th diocesan Chapter 11 to be filed in the United States—is unlike its predecessors, parties in the case say.

Where the previous U.S. church settlements came only after protracted battles, the Rochester case could shape up differently, Ilan Scharf, attorney for the Creditors Committee, said during a November court hearing.

A bankruptcy lawyer with Pachulski, Stang, Ziehl & Jones LLP in New York City, Scharf has represented abuse survivors as a creditors committee attorney in Chapter 11s filed by the North American branch of the Ireland-based Christian Brothers Catholic teaching order and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings in Montana.

“This case is unique,” Scharf said to the court in November. “It was not filed after years of litigation. The difference is the (Child Victims Act).”

Opening a floodgate

Signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February, the CVA has unleashed a torrent of sex-abuse claims, many aimed at the Catholic church.

The act temporarily lifts a statute of limitations that would have barred most of the roughly 1,000 sex-abuse claims the Rochester Diocese believes it will see this year. The statute of limitations previously required individuals claiming to have been sexually abused as children to file claims by their 23rd birthday. When the CVA kicked in last August, it raised the upper age limit to 55. The new limit remains in effect for one year.

Speaking at an October meeting with the diocese’s creditors, a group overwhelmingly made up of abuse survivors, Bishop Salvatore Matano explained the Rochester diocese’s decision to ask for court protection as driven by “the number of claims that have come forward and our resources to satisfy those claims.” The costs of adjudicating those claims in state court would exhaust the diocese’s resources, leaving virtually no funds to compensate the survivors, he said.

In an earlier court filing that month, made some three weeks into the case, the diocese tallied its CVA-claim debt at $22 million and estimated that additional claims totaling $90 million would be submitted. The filing states the diocese’s assets including real estate and legally restricted donations at $67.95 million.

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