Camden diocese offers $90M for victims of clergy sex abuse

The Courier-Post [Cherry Hill NJ]

February 3, 2022

By Jim Walsh

The Diocese of Camden has announced a plan to distribute $90 million to survivors of clergy sex abuse, well above its original offer of $10 million as part of a bankruptcy action.

But attorneys for sex-abuse survivors promptly rebuffed the proposal.

“It’s just woefully inadequate,” said Jeffrey Prol, an attorney for a committee representing more than 300 people with sex-abuse claims.

The two sides have clashed repeatedly over the amount of funds to be provided to sex-abuse survivors, with attorneys for claimants alleging the diocese has undervalued its assets to reduce its exposure.

The proposed fund, if approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, would be used to resolve some 300 claims, the diocese said in a statement Wednesday night.

The diocese would provide “the bulk” of the money, but its parishes “will also contribute a portion,” the statement said. It said the joint payment would total $60 million, but offered no additional details.

It acknowledged the proposal “will cause concern in many parishioners due to its size. However, it is necessary.”

“While this settlement may cause the diocese some restriction, it ultimately allows parishes, schools and ministries within the diocese to continue their important work,” the statement said.

But lawyers for sex-abuse survivors said the plan would short-change victims of clergy sex abuse.

Prol asserted the South Jersey diocese has assets worth $1 billion, with up to $250 million in readily available funds.

He also contended the diocese’ insurers, who are contributing $30 million to the plan, could provide more through policies valued at $190 million.

“The committee (for sex-abuse claimants) opposes this proposal,” said the Roseland, Essex County, attorney.

Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer for sex-abuse survivors, called the plan “a shameless legal maneuver using the bankruptcy code to exclude survivors and to expedite a self-serving scheme without the survivors’ consent or input.”

The diocese filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in October 2020, citing the financial burden of sex-abuse lawsuits and the pandemic.

It initially offered $10 million to settle sex-abuse claims, an amount that rose to $53 million by October 2021.

The proposed fund’s size was “determined through the extensive negotiation process and analysis of previous clergy sex abuse cases,” the diocese said in a statement.

Under the plan, the statement said, the diocese and its parishes would provide $30 million in cash, “available on day one, and additional payments of $10 million on the first, second and third anniversaries of plan confirmation.”

The diocese previously has said it paid $8 million to settle about 70 claims while participating in a program created by the state’s five Catholic dioceses between June 2019 and July 2021.

It also paid $11 million to additional victims from the mid-1990s to the late 2010s.

In its statement, the diocese acknowledged “once there was blindness” to clergy sex abuse.

But it asserted “situations like this are no longer handled in any form but transparently, both through education to prevent abuse and immediate law enforcement notification should a future incident of abuse ever be reported.”

The diocese serves about 475,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties.