As Sex Abuse Claims Continue to Double, Catholic Church’s Bankruptcy Stalls Justice

La Voce di New York [New York NY]

October 14, 2022

By Amanda James

Bishops claim “potentially ruinous liability,” and the “heavy burden of litigation expenses” is keeping them from doing spiritual work

The sexual abuse scandal roiling the Catholic Church, although mostly under the radar in the recent past, has not gone away.

In California–and elsewhere–the lawsuits are mounting — middle-aged men, saying they were sexually assaulted as children by a Boy Scout leader or a priest. A woman, now in her late 30s, detailing how she was allegedly assaulted in a center for foster children. A man who said he was abused while volunteering with the Salvation Army.

At least 750 of those lawsuits filed since January 2020 are against Catholic dioceses, and more than 800 people are in the process of filing to beat a Dec. 31 deadline, according to lawyers involved in the cases.

California has twice extended the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims, prompting nine state bishops to make a desperate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. Saying they faced “potentially ruinous liability,” the bishops last month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the California lookback window unconstitutional.

Closer to home the situation is no better and just as problematic–indeed, some would call it outrageous–as dioceses declare bankruptcy in order to avoid facing the consequences of decades of criminal behavior by priests who are simply shifted about from diocese to diocese when they are discovered.

In the Diocese of Rockville Centre, one of the largest in New York, hundreds of sex abuse cases filed against them have not been settled in the two years since the diocese declared bankruptcy, according to online court records reviewed by Patch.

After an in-depth investigation of court documents, Patch reported that at least 334 plaintiffs who claimed they were sexually abused by a Diocese employee as a child, are still awaiting settlements, as the status of their cases remain idle.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre declared bankruptcy Oct. 1, 2020. Bishop John O. Barres said in a written statement on the bankruptcy claim that the diocese “could not continue to carry out its spiritual, charitable and educational missions while also having to shoulder the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases.”

Sean P. Dolan, director of communications for the diocese, told Patch that mediation is currently ongoing. “The Diocese is working in good faith to conclude the bankruptcy case as quickly as possible for the sake of everyone involved in a way that treats the survivors of abuse as fairly as possible, and not simply based on who filed lawsuits first,” he said.

The 506 cases were filed through the Child Victims Act, which allowed survivors of sexual abuse a window to file claims despite statute of limitations.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act in February 2019, and it went into effect in August of that year. The window to file claims was extended to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time of the declared bankruptcy, the diocese faced 203 cases. Since then, that amount has more than doubled, with at least 506 claims filed, according to bankruptcy documents.

In 2021, the diocese sold its headquarters in Rockville Centre for $5.2 million, as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. Per the bankruptcy court, the entire sale of the building was intended to pay the diocese’s creditors.

Rockville Centre is the fourth Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy in New York state, after the Dioceses of Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Rockville Centre is believed to be the largest diocese to file for bankruptcy.

But it would appear that declaring bankruptcy fails to alleviate anyone’s “burden”, not the Church’s and not the victims’. In the meantime, the victims await justice.