Archdiocese of Baltimore MD
September 5, 2023
By Archbishop William E. Lori
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed a new law that enables victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. This legislation has the potential to have devastating financial consequences, not only for every public school system in the State of Maryland but for many other institutions and organizations as well, including for the ministries of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In anticipation of the October 1 effective date of the new law, it is my intention to undertake multiple consultations in the coming days with various ordained and lay leaders in the Archdiocese about the manner in which the Archdiocese will respond to the new law. It is about that response that I write to you today.
In considering how the Archdiocese might respond to the new law, it is important to keep in mind two overarching goals:
1. The first goal is the healing of victim-survivors who have suffered so profoundly from the actions of some ministers of the Church. Opinions about how to accomplish this goal will understandably vary because there simply is no perfect solution to assist them in overcoming such harm. In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have for the last 16 years offered voluntary settlements through a mediated settlement program to victim-survivors even though their claims in civil courts were blocked by Maryland’s statute of limitations. We do so because we believe it is the right thing to do to promote healing. The new law, however, takes a different approach by permitting civil lawsuits for actions that occurred decades ago. While passed with the aim of enabling victim-survivors to find justice, the new law’s method is also believed by many to violate Maryland’s Constitution. The Courts will need to make that determination.
2. The second goal is the continuation and furtherance of the many ministries of the Archdiocese that provide for the spiritual, educational and social needs of countless people — Catholic and non-Catholic — across the state. This includes ministries taking place at our parishes, schools, social service agencies, and other organizations supported by the Archdiocese. It is our firm belief that the mandate for doing so comes from Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Which of those goals will I prioritize? Both. As the spiritual leader of this Archdiocese, it is incumbent upon me to meet the needs both for healing for those who have suffered tremendous harm by the actions of some ministers of the church, as well as the needs of those who currently rely upon the Church’s ministries. We do not believe that these goals are mutually exclusive. To that end, it is essential for the Archdiocese to pursue the best possible solution to meet both goals.
With the passage of the new law, there is a high likelihood that the Archdiocese will face multiple lawsuits, the number of which is hard to predict. Litigating them individually would potentially lead to some very high damage awards for a very small number of victim-survivors while leaving almost nothing for the vast majority of them. The Archdiocese simply does not have unlimited resources to satisfy such claims; its assets are indeed finite.
Consequently, an approach under consideration to meet both of our stated goals is seeking relief through a bankruptcy reorganization — establishing a reasonable and equitable method for compensation of victim-survivors while also preserving the many vital ministries of the Archdiocese. In this type of reorganization, the Archdiocese would be required to provide resources which would be used to compensate victim-survivors while at the same time ensuring our mission can continue.
It is important to note that the mission is made possible through the generosity of so many of our Catholic faithful. The Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries, for example, provides meals and shelter for our neighbors in need, support for moms experiencing difficult pregnancies, immigration outreach, programs for adults with disabilities, tuition assistance and many other ways we live out our faith. Fortunately, in a bankruptcy reorganization process, gifts given for specific purposes such as the Annual Appeal are strictly limited to the stated intentions of the donor. This is also true of any gifts given to parishes for specific purposes. Should we file for bankruptcy, the Archdiocese would use its unrestricted assets to satisfy claims and pay various costs.
The underlying issue that has led us to this place is indeed horrific. Innocent children were harmed, and lives were ruined. Please join me in praying for their healing and for the Holy Spirit’s gifts of Wisdom and Counsel as we undertake the decisions that lie ahead.
Faithfully in Christ,
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore