Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]
July 28, 2023
By Joe Bukuras
The Diocese of Syracuse, New York, announced on Thursday that it will pay $100 million to a victims’ trust fund for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, just over three years after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The diocese will contribute $50 million to the trust, while parishes will contribute $45 million. Five million dollars will be contributed by other diocesan entities.
The agreement of the dollar amount was made with a group representing all victims who brought suits against the diocese called the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which is entirely made up of victims who as children were sexually abused by clergy or employees in the Diocese of Syracuse.
In a joint statement with the diocese and the committee, Dr. Kevin Braney, the committee’s chairman, said: “This settlement is a significant step forward in the healing process for over 400 victims in this case.”
The statement said that “although the settlement amount remains subject to a creditor vote and court approval, the dollar figure of the settlement has been accepted by the official committee.”
The diocese filed for bankruptcy on June 19, 2020, after more than 100 child sexual abuse lawsuits were filed against it under the state’s Child Victims Act, which allowed claims to be filed past the statute of limitations for a period of two years ending in 2021.
Following the passage of that act, only the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn have not filed for bankruptcy as a result of the legislation.
In a letter to the faithful on Thursday, Syracuse Bishop Douglas Lucia said that although the settlement number is “shocking,” what is “more appalling and heartrending 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.”
“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,” he said.
Lucia said that the final settlement will include commitments to strengthen the diocese’s safe environment protocols “to further ensure the past does not repeat itself.”
Eighty-one parishes and 21 Catholic entities have been named in lawsuits, according to a frequently asked questions page on the diocese’s website.
Lucia said that parishes and diocesan entities are contributing to the fund because they have been named in the suits “placing them at substantial risk of direct liability in state court actions.”
“The litigation cost, settlements, or jury awards would far exceed the resources available,” he said.
Contributing to the victims’ trust will settle their claims, he added.
The creditors committee has not yet reached a settlement with insurance providers, but both the diocese and the committee will continue talks over a resolution.
According to the frequently asked questions page, the diocese has paid almost $11 million in legal fees.
The bishop said in his letter that he initiated the bankruptcy process in 2020 so the diocese “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.”
“The one thing I continue to struggle with myself is the ‘scandal’ of it all,” he said.
“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.”
“I can say honestly that my own faith has been shaken and tested by the abuse scandal,” he added.
The bishop said he asked that Masses celebrating the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time on July 29 and 30 be offered for the intention “for the forgiveness of sins.” He also asked that violet vestments be worn.
“In our prayer, on this weekend, we ask pardon for sins of commission and omission, as we pray for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and those who have been scarred mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by these heinous actions,” he said.
“In charity, we must not forget the perpetrators of such harmful behavior and pray for their own healing, conversion, and amendment,” Lucia said.
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.