Baltimore archdiocese’s bankruptcy threat a ‘smoke screen’ in sexual abuse scandal

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

September 15, 2023

By Sarah Klein

Oct. 1 is independence day for Maryland survivors of child sexual abuse. That is the day the Child Victims Act takes effect, eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in the state, thereby empowering survivors to seek justice, healing and compensation from their abusers and the institutions that enabled the abuse regardless of when it occurred.

Like all battles for independence, this one was the result of courage and years of struggle. Hundreds of survivors braved their fear of public exposure and relived horrific abuse to tell their tragic stories to investigators and public officials. They testified to a grand jury investigating decades of sexual abuse by clergy within the Maryland Catholic Church.

As a former competitive gymnast and the first known survivor of serial predator Larry Nassar, I fully understand and empathize with the survivors who stepped forward to expose this horrible scandal.

I was one of more than 500 children and young women — including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and many of the sport’s most accomplished athletes — molested over a period of two decades by U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team doctor Larry Nassar. By testifying in court and before Congress, we put Nassar in prison for life and passed the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020 — landmark federal legislation to protect children in sports.

The results of the survivors’ testimony in Maryland were equally dramatic and effective.

In April, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a report finding that “the staggering pervasiveness of the abuse itself underscores the culpability of the Church hierarchy. The sheer number of abusers and victims, the depravity of the abusers’ conduct, and the frequency with which known abusers were given the opportunity to continue preying upon children are astonishing. Over 600 children are known to have been abused by the 156 people included in this Report, but the number is likely far higher.”

The report named 156 priests and church officials as abusers within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, encompassing nine counties in central and western Maryland. Since the report was published, the Archdiocese of Baltimore added more than 40 names to its public list of Catholic Church staff credibly accused of sexually abusing children, including deacons, nuns, and lay teachers.

Within three months, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed the Child Victims Act, which will give all victims of child sexual abuse access to the courts, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Even though the focus of this law has been on survivors of clergy abuse, it will also benefit those who were abused in schools, by doctors, in youth sports and even by family members.

As an attorney representing many of these victims, I can report that this battle is far from over. Efforts are already underway to challenge the constitutionality of the Child Victims Act, which could delay implementation of the law.

Despite statements of remorse and pleas for forgiveness by the Church hierarchy, The Sun has reported that The Baltimore Archdiocese is considering filing for bankruptcy as it anticipates a potential flood of lawsuits starting Oct. 1.

Church officials argue that filing for bankruptcy protects the capacity of dioceses to continue serving their parishioners and that bankruptcy is a way to ensure that all victims receive compensation through a single process. This is a smoke screen.

Our firm has represented survivors in many such bankruptcy cases. I personally served on the creditors committee during the USA Gymnastics bankruptcy case that followed the Larry Nassar scandal. I can tell you that no matter what church officials might say, they file bankruptcy for only one reason, and that is to protect their assets from the just claims of the people they have harmed.

Internal emails obtained by the Sun revealed discussions among Church officials about how the timing of a bankruptcy filing might impact year-end fundraising.

The true bankruptcy of the Church hierarchy is the moral bankruptcy of those who allowed dozens of priests to inflict soul crushing sexual abuse on hundreds of children for decades.

This is truly a battle between good and evil where survivors have the moral high ground. By continuing to come forward and speak their truth to the courts, the media and our elected representatives, I can state from experience that they will prevail.

Sarah Klein (@SG_Klein) is an advocate, attorney and survivor. She is the first know victim of former U.S. Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar.