Democrat and Chronicle
October 13, 2020
By Steve Orr
A year after Rochester’s Catholic diocese filed for bankruptcy protection, private talks continue toward a resolution, with 500 claims for compensation from sexual abuse victims at the top of the agenda.
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2019, saying it could not afford to pay the compensation being demanded in a flood of new civil suits alleging sexual abuse by church ministers in past decades.
Since then, a battalion of lawyers has met in person and via videoconference to move the case slowly forward. The lawyers have so far billed the diocese more than $3 million in legal fees for their efforts.
In a letter to parishioners last month to mark the one-year anniversary of the filing, Bishop Salvatore Matano said discussions with insurers were about to begin, with the help of a court-appointed mediator.
“This begins part of the process to determine the funds available to settle claims and negotiate reasonable settlements,” he said.
Still to be resolved is the impact of the sexual abuse claims on the diocese’s parishes and affiliated organizations, such as Catholic Charities. They are separately incorporated and the diocese has insisted that they are independently operated.
Abuse survivors were given until mid-August to submit additional claims. When the deadline had come and gone, diocesan leaders found the weight of legal claims was far greater than they had feared.
“While even one claim of sexual abuse committed by anyone who violated his or her position of sacred trust would be intolerable, quite disturbingly approximately 500 claims were filed, a number extremely troubling,” Matano wrote in his September letter.
He said he expected the total to be decreased by about 20% due to duplicates and claims that are the responsibility of other parties.
Still to be determined is whether information about those 500 claims and the Catholic ministers they accuse is made public as part of the settlement.
It’s also not clear what will be done with some 43,000 pages of internal sub secreto files that the diocese has given to lawyers for the abuse victims. The files can be used to verify claims and to judge whether past diocesan leaders tried to hide the predatory behavior of some priests.
Such material has become part of the public record in some other diocesan bankruptcy proceedings, meant to help answer questions that have lingered for decades about the actions of church leaders.
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