Diocese of Ogdensburg files for bankruptcy amid Child Victims Act lawsuits

North Country Public Radio (NCPR) [Canton NY]

July 17, 2023

By Cara Chapman

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in response to Child Victims Act lawsuits.

The New York state law, passed in 2019, extended the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse to bring criminal charges or file civil suits against their abusers. It also opened a “lookback window” that allowed survivors to file civil suits no matter when the alleged abuse took place.

There are currently 124 cases pending against the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which date between the 1940s and 1990s, according to the diocese.

The diocese says the goal for filing Chapter 11 reorganization “is to resolve the legal cases in a fair and equitable manner while allowing the Diocese to continue its mission.” Otherwise, the organization says, civil actions would continue for many years and those who filed the first lawsuits would receive larger awards or settlements, leaving little for the remaining claimants.

“Filing for reorganization does not hinder claims filed by survivors,” Bishop Terry LaValley said in a statement. “Instead, it establishes a process for all claims to be treated fairly.”

But two law firms that collectively represent more than 50 people who filed suits against the diocese disagree.

Attorney Cynthia LaFave with the Albany-based firm LaFave, Wein & Frament, PLLC said the move shows the diocese’s intention is to serve its own self-interest.

“In declaring bankruptcy, the diocese knowingly obstructs survivors’ long-awaited opportunity to say their piece; to be heard, to be acknowledged,” she said.

“The Diocese of Ogdensburg is running from accountability,” said attorney Jeff Anderson of the NYC-based firm Jeff Anderson & Associates. “Instead of standing up for the people entrusted to their care and acknowledging the harm done to children for which they are responsible, the diocese is taking drastic, self-serving measures in an attempt to suppress the truth.”

The diocese is the sixth in New York state to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the last four years.

LaValley said the diocese has put in place policies and procedures aimed at preventing sexual abuse, and ensuring allegations “are responsibly and justly handled.” He said no claims have been filed alleging abuse in the last 20 years.

LaValley said he expects reorganization will have minimal effect on parishes, though it is likely they’ll be asked to contribute funds available to address survivors’ claims.

“Many of the parishes have also been sued in the abuse lawsuits, creating the potential for liability for them, but we are hopeful that the reorganization case will allow us to resolve all claims against the diocese and parishes,” he said.