Legal Examiner [Los Angeles CA]
August 5, 2021
Priest abuse has been a steady and disturbing pattern across the U.S. for decades. Currently, cases are pouring in, and the list of clergy credibly accused of abuse continues to grow in New York state. Four dioceses in New York have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, prompting claims deadlines. The dates for Syracuse and Rochester have already passed, but it’s not too late for some.
Due to bankruptcy filings, the Diocese of Buffalo and Diocese of Rockville Centre have a deadline for clergy abuse claims of August 14, 2021. This date coincides with the extended look-back window date in the Child Victims Act (CVA), which has led to an even greater influx of clergy abuse lawsuits. Since the New York CVA was enacted, thousands of child sex abuse cases by clergy have been reported by survivors who were previously unable to make claims due to their age and when the abuse occurred.
The New York priest sex abuse claims deadline gives victims a final opportunity to hold clergy and the Church officials who protected them responsible. Once August 14, 2021, has passed, those who suffered egregious molestation, sexual advances, and rape by clergy, staff, or other volunteers of the Catholic Church may have difficulty seeking financial compensation or have their day in court.
Why Is There a Deadline for New York Priest Abuse Claims?
Similar to other states, abuse scandals have led dioceses to face high costs in settlements and legal fees for heinous crimes against children. Many dioceses file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect themselves when faced with an influx of child sex abuse claims. Once this happens, a deadline, or bar date, for survivors to seek compensation is set by a bankruptcy court judge.
However, in New York, the Child Victims Act impacted some filing dates for clergy abuse. But not all judges in the state considered the August 14, 2021 deadline applicable in bankruptcy filings. As a result, victims in both Syracuse and Rochester had deadlines far earlier than this summer, a widely criticized move by advocates who argued the New York CVA should be upheld for all childhood abuse claims.
How Does Chapter 11 Affect Clergy Abuse Claims?
Unlike other forms of bankruptcy that involve the liquidation of assets and close of business, Chapter 11 involves restructuring. The dioceses remain open during the bankruptcy process, with the goal to remain operational by creating a restructuring plan that the judge must approve.
While clergy abuse claims can continue to be filed until the claims deadline set by the bankruptcy judge, settlements are essentially put on hold. Instead, the restructuring plan includes settlements for claims of childhood sexual abuse by church officials.
Many disagree with allowing dioceses to file for bankruptcy amidst abuse lawsuits for several reasons: the judge, instead of a jury, makes the decision, and advocates feel it limits public knowledge, unfairly protects the Church, takes away from the individual crime, and ultimately limits justice and compensation for victims.
How the New York Child Victims Act Affects Priest Abuse Claims
The New York CVA extends the window of time that childhood sexual abuse survivors can file a claim against a person or institution regardless of when or how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Victims older than 23 (New York’s statute of limitations for childhood abuse claims) and 55 or younger now have the opportunity to make a claim against the perpetrator and the institution responsible. Claims can be made until August 14, 2021, providing a beacon of hope for survivors that has resulted in thousands of cases of childhood sex abuse to emerge.
Unfortunately, the CVA revealed an even deeper and more disturbing reality of child sex abuse in churches in New York. Less than two years after it was put in place, almost 600 sex abuse claims against the Diocese of Brooklyn were made.
Given the influx of lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church that plague the world, it’s unsurprising, but no less disturbing, to see the sheer number of crimes that occurred and are occurring within the institution.
New York Priest Abuse Claims: Moving Forward
Hundreds of sex abuse survivors in New York have already come forward with claims against the Roman Catholic Church. With the bankruptcy and New York CVA deadlines of August 14, 2021, fast approaching, even more claims are expected to emerge. After this date, no financial compensation can be sought.
The decision to come forward and hold those accountable for childhood sexual abuse is difficult. It can cause setbacks and more trauma for victims, but at the very least, receiving compensation for the suffering endured can ensure financial stability as they cope and deal with the impacts of child abuse.