Facing Sex-Abuse Claims, Buffalo Diocese Declares Bankruptcy

The New York Times

February 29, 2020

By Jesse McKinley and Liam Stack

The diocese said it was seeking Chapter 11 protection because of old accusations revived under New York’s Child Victims Act.

The Diocese of Buffalo filed for federal bankruptcy on Friday, becoming the latest entity to seek financial protection after a 2019 state law allowed victims of historical childhood sexual assault to sue.

The Catholic diocese, the largest in upstate New York, cited the Child Victims Act in a statement posted on its website, saying that the maneuver was necessary “to continue uninterrupted its mission throughout Western New York, while working to settle claims with existing Diocesan assets and insurance coverages.”

The Child Victims Act was passed last year by the Democratic Legislature in Albany, after years of opposition from religious groups and private schools, among others. It created a so-called look-back window, starting in August and lasting one year, allowing old claims that had passed the statute of limitations to be revived.

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the Catholic Church in the days after the look-back window opened, with more than 1,000 complaints brought under the Child Victims Act by Jan. 31, according to victims’ advocates. The sheer volume of claims led to speculation that one or more of the eight dioceses in New York could declare bankruptcy.

In September, the Diocese of Rochester became the first to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a month after the child victims law went into effect, and suggested that it was the best way to serve the growing number of plaintiffs. Buffalo is the second diocese to do so, and observers believe more could follow suit.

“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see other dioceses in New York file,” said Terence McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks claims of wrongdoing in the church. “That’s partly because of the enormous number of legal claims being brought under the Child Victims Act, but also because there is potential there to control various aspects of that process of accountability.”

“This is a way of managing their exposure,” he added.

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