Camden diocese plan would offer $26 million for clergy sex abuse survivors

The Courier-Post [Cherry Hill NJ]

October 11, 2021

By Jim Walsh

The Diocese of Camden wants a federal bankruptcy judge to approve a plan that offers $26 million to about 300 victims of alleged clergy sex abuse.

But the diocese acknowledged opposition to its proposal, which could rise to about $40 million “if survivors choose to accept tax-free payments over seven years.”

It asserted a committee representing survivors has offered “no reasonable” proposals after hundreds of hours in mediation with the diocese.

“The point has been reached where survivors should have the choice to accept compensation now,” the diocese said in a statement Monday evening.

The diocese on Tuesday, Oct. 12, is to file a reorganization plan with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden, where it filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors a little more than a year ago.

In filing for Chapter Ii protection, the diocese cited the financial impact of both clergy sex abuse claims and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has forced many austerity measures, including layoffs,” Monday’s statement said.

The diocese, which serves about 486,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties, previously proposed a reorganization plan in December 2020 with a $10 million fund for survivors.

That plan was rejected earlier this year by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerrold Poslusny in Camden.

An attorney for about 70 claimants blasted the new proposal Monday night.

“Their offer is draconian and is an insult that revictimizes the survivors,” said John Baldante, a lawyer with offices in Haddonfield and Philadelphia.

The diocese said its new plan “ensures that abuse survivors will see financial payment as soon as possible, ideally, as soon as later this year.”

The statement noted the diocese has spent more than $7 million on legal fees tied to the bankruptcy filing, and asserted “continued delays will only further exhaust” its funds.

It also said most of the claims filed with the bankruptcy court “date back decades” and argued “providing money to survivors now is necessary and appropriate.”

The diocese also contended payments under the reorganization plan would be “substantial and consistent” with amounts provided previously to other survivors.

The diocese said it paid $8 million two years ago to settle 71 claims through the Independent Victim Compensation Program, a process created by the state’s five Catholic dioceses.

Those claims averaged about $112,500, the statement said.

With the new proposal, average payments for each of 300 claimants would be about $88,600 under the $26 million offer and $133,000 under the $40 million proposal.

The diocese also paid $11 million to additional victims of clergy sex abuse from the mid-1990s to the late 2010s.

“It is important to note that the last reported incident of priest abuse of a minor occurred in the mid-1990s,” the statement said.

The diocese serves about 486,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties.

Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other beats for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.