NEW ORLEANS (LA)
Big Easy Magazine [New Orleans LA]
June 2, 2021
By Helen Lewis
Hundreds of clergy sexual abuse survivors, who had filed claims against the Archdiocese of New Orleans after it declared bankruptcy, were surprised to receive letters from the church’s lawyers last month.
The letters included personal information, like the full names and addresses of the survivors, and three “requests”, which the letter stressed required no action on the parts of survivors.
The requests included the “Request by Original Committee and Consent” which came from the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, the “Request by Commercial Committee and Consent,” which came from the Official Committee of Unsecured Commercial Creditors, and “Request by Debtor and Consent,” which came from The Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The letters sparked fear for survivors, who were not expecting to be contacted directly by the Archdiocese. “Some of my clients were uncomfortable with the fact that this letter was sent directly to them.” Kristi Schubert, an attorney who is representing numerous survivors commented. “Most of my clients had indicated on their Proof of Claim forms that they preferred all communication to go through their attorney. Instead, these consent forms were sent to my clients directly. This went against their stated wishes and it caused a lot of confusion and concern.”
“It’s a way for the accused priests to get info on their accusers but it’s a one-way street as usual,” Russ Hebron, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Leader of New Orleans explained. “It was meant to intimidate and trigger survivors which it did. My phone and inboxes went wild.”
Hebron labeled the letter “a tactic of intimidation” because of the fear it caused for survivors, and the pressure it put on them to provide personal and case-related information.
Shubert commented, “All I can say is that I would not recommend to my clients that they consent to that. Most survivors, that I know, feel very uncomfortable with the idea of, you know, if they file their claim privately they want it to remain private. To all of my clients, I recommended that they do not agree to that unless they filed their Proof of Claims publicly which some did.”
Shubert’s law firm, Lamothe Law Firm, sent a letter to claimants addressing the requests, with the advice they only agree to the Request by Original Committee and Consent, and not fill out the other two forms. This option will allow claimants to redact their identifying information from the Proof of Claims, and share their information with other attorneys of sexual abuse survivors, which could strengthen their cases.
The law firm advised against filling out the other two forms. “I can’t speak to what their motives were but I can say that I believe many of my clients did feel intimidated,” Schubert said. “For people who have survived sexual abuse, it’s extremely difficult for them to imagine having any future interaction with their abusers, even if it’s indirect. For a lot of people, it was intimidating.”