Survivors object to Archdiocese of Baltimore’s proposed abuse claims cut-off date in church bankruptcy case

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

November 29, 2023

By Alex Mann

Survivors are pushing back against a February deadline proposed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for potential victims to provide proof of claims of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church’s bankruptcy case.

In a filing Wednesday, attorneys for the creditors committee, a group of seven abuse survivors selected to represent the interests of hundreds more in the bankruptcy proceedings, said setting Feb. 26 as a cutoff for claim submissions was unreasonable.

Known as a “claims bar date,” the deadline effectively acts as a statute of limitations for potential lawsuits against the Baltimore diocese for clergy abuse. It was one of several paramount procedural issues the survivors committee raised in the filing Wednesday in which it also signaled optimism about resolving with the church.

“Survivors have been disbelieved and shamed for decades,” attorneys for the creditors committee wrote. “Now that Survivors finally have access to the legal process, it is vital that their voices be heard and that all unnecessary obstacles to their participation in this case be removed. The Survivor claim process should be fair and take account of Survivor histories, Survivor challenges, and Survivor perspectives.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy Sept. 29, two days before it expected to be hit by a flood of lawsuits filed under Maryland’s new Child Victims Act, which lifted a previous age limit for victims to bring civil complaints for child sexual abuse.

After years of failed attempts, the Maryland General Assembly passed the child victims law in April, defeating a longtime lobbying effort against it funded by the church. The Child Victims Act took effect Oct. 1.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General in April released a 500-page report laying out the findings of a four-year investigation into approximately 80 years of child sex abuse by clergy and the church’s efforts to cover it up. Investigators uncovered evidence dating to the 1940s of 156 clergy and other church officials tormenting more than 600 children and young adults.

Declaring bankruptcy was a strategic move from America’s oldest Catholic diocese designed to limit its liability against potential damages and protect its assets. The grueling bankruptcy process is expected to span several years.

A deluge of documents from lawyers seeking approval to join the case, financial statements from law firms already involved in the case, and several procedural updates populate the archdiocese bankruptcy docket. Tucked away among those filings are several key issues, the bar date and how survivors would file claims chief among them.

In an Oct. 31 filing, lawyers for the church said a Feb. 26 deadline would provide “sufficient time” for survivors to file proofs of claims, describing the bar date as “fair and equitable.”

The church said it was proposing certain procedures, like allowing claimants to submit claims with identifying information shielded from the public, “to avoid causing unnecessary additional anguish or embarrassment, to encourage such individuals to feel safe and secure in advancing their claims without fear of retribution or reprisal.”

It also proposed a questionnaire for potential claimants to complete, which the creditors committee has since objected to, describing it as lengthy and cumbersome.

The church’s motion “seeks to treat Survivors differently from other classes of creditors by requesting entry of an Order that would impose an undue burden on Survivors and exceed the requirements prescribed by the Bankruptcy Rules,” attorneys for the survivors committee wrote in Wednesday’s filing.

The survivors committee attorneys also expressed optimism that both sides could reach a consensus about a deadline for victims to file claims and an agreeable procedure for them to do so.

“The Committee shares the Debtor’s goal of creating a safe process that allows the parties to identify all Survivors who are willing to participate in the bankruptcy process and provide those Survivors with a meaningful opportunity to confidentially assert a claim,” the survivors’ attorneys wrote. “The Committee and the Debtor have made substantial progress towards addressing the Committee’s concerns.”