Crux [Denver CO]
July 28, 2023
By John Lavenburg
NEW YORK – Roughly three years after the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, filed for bankruptcy following a wave of clergy sex abuse lawsuits, it has reached a $100 million settlement with survivors.
Announcing the news to the Diocese of Syracuse faithful, Bishop Douglas Lucia offered an apology to the clergy sex abuse survivors for what they endured, and a commitment to further strengthen the diocese’s safe environment protocols so that “the past does not repeat itself.”
“I can tell you as shocking as the settlement amount may seem to leaders of our own parishes and other Catholic entities, more appalling and heart-rending to me is the pain and mistreatment experienced by the survivors of child and adult sexual abuse at the hands of those they thought they could trust,” Lucia said.
“As the present leader of the Roman Catholic Church of Syracuse, I cannot apologize enough for the abuse which happened or for any neglect in dealing with it.” Lucia added. “This is why the final settlement will include commitments meant to strengthen our safe environment protocols to further ensure the past does not repeat itself.”
Beyond the financial settlement, non-monetary terms of the settlement are still under negotiation, including the ways the diocese will strengthen its child protection protocols, and the public release of documents pertaining to diocesan personnel who committed abuse, according to a news release from the law firms that represented the survivors.
“[The survivors on the Committee of Unsecured Creditors] deserve so much thanks and praise, and they deserve to have everyone know that they always kept up the fight regardless of the cost to themselves in exhaustion and emotion,” attorney Cynthia LaFave said in a July 27 statement. “The survivors and the committee have fought long and hard to achieve this historic result. Many thanks to them.”
The law firms added, however, that absent from the settlement is a contribution from any of the diocese’s insurers, which they are still working to obtain. As it stands, the $100 million settlement consists of $50 million from the diocese itself, $45 million from the diocese’s 116 parishes, and $5 million from other diocesan entities, according to the diocese.
In the letter, Lucia asked parishioners “to not lose sight that what we are doing is the right thing to do.”
“The reason I initiated these proceedings a little over three years ago was so the Diocese of Syracuse could be responsible for reparation in a fair and equitable manner to those individuals who had been harmed through sexual abuse by members of our diocesan family,” Lucia said.
“It is hoped that acknowledgement of the grave breach of trust and the suffering it has brought will help these men and women – our brothers and sisters in Christ – to find some comfort and solace in the midst of the painful cross they carry, and that they do not walk this way alone!” he added.
The Diocese of Syracuse faced more than 100 lawsuits alleging past child sexual abuse when it filed for bankruptcy in 2020. At the time, the Diocese of Syracuse was the third New York diocese to file for bankruptcy as a result of the state’s 2019 Child Victims Act that opened a “look-back” window allowing claims of child sexual abuse previously beyond the statute of limitations to be filed.
The Diocese of Brooklyn and Archdiocese of New York are the only two New York dioceses that haven’t filed for bankruptcy as a result of the Child Victims Act. The most recent New York diocese to file for bankruptcy was the Diocese of Ogdensburg earlier this month, facing more than 100 lawsuits.
Back in 2018, then-Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse, who is now a bishop emeritus in the diocese, released a list of credibly accused clergy over the past 70 years in an effort to bring “some peace and healing” to both survivors, and the faith community at large.
That list, available on the diocese’s website, contains 59 names. Most of the names on the list are deceased. Every other name is either dismissed from the clerical state or removed from ministry. There are no credibly accused priests in active ministry in the diocese, according to the list.
In the letter, Lucia also offered an apology to the clergy and lay faithful whose own faith has been affected by the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“I am most heartily sorry for the lay faithful and clergy – who on their own faith journeys have been so offended and harmed by the breach of trust and detrimental behavior of their co-religionists – and who, too, have had to endure suspicion and ridicule for being a Catholic believer,” Lucia said. “I can say honestly that my own faith has been shaken and tested by the abuse scandal.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg