Baltimore Archbishop Lori commits ‘to hear directly from the survivors’ in court

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

March 20, 2024

By Alex Mann

If survivors of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Baltimore have the opportunity to testify at two hearings in bankruptcy court about their torment, Archbishop William Lori will be there to listen.

Lori, leader of America’s oldest archdiocese, “will personally attend on both occasions to hear directly from the survivors,” attorneys for the church said in a court filing Wednesday.

The Baltimore Sun first reported on Lori’s agreement with the committee representing survivors in the church’s bankruptcy case to be present in court, if the judge approves the proposal to have survivors testify.

“It’s important for me and for church leaders continually to hear from victim-survivors about what happened in their life and what that brought about in their lives,” Lori told the church-published Catholic Review for an article published Wednesday. “I also think it’s a moment when victim-survivors experience a moment of empowerment and justice. And, I think their testimonies will have a big impact on my mind and heart and on the proceedings that are to follow. I really admire the courage of these individuals to come forward and to speak in a very public way about what it is that happened to them.”

In a court filing Friday, attorneys for the committee representing survivors asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner to permit the victims to testify over several hours during hearings in April and May.

“Survivor voices have been silenced for many years,” attorneys wrote. “This proceeding is likely the only opportunity that Survivors in Baltimore will have to seek acknowledgement and justice for the decades of isolation and pain they endured.”

The filing from archdiocese lawyers Wednesday formalized what diocesan spokespeople previously told The Sun: that the church supported the committee’s request to let survivors testify.

“While the Debtor acknowledges no amount of action can completely atone for the harm done as a result of abuse, being aware that the ability to share one’s story can be a significant element of the healing process, the Debtor endorses the request to present victim-survivor statements in court on two separate occasions,” attorneys for the archdiocese wrote.

Harner, who has encouraged victims to participate in the proceedings, has yet to decide on the request.

The archdiocese declared bankruptcy Sept. 29, two days before Maryland’s Child Victims Act took effect. That law lifted a previous time limit for people sexually abused as children to sue the perpetrators and the institutions who enabled their torment. But filing for bankruptcy prevented child sex abuse lawsuits in state court, instead funneling those civil claims through the bankruptcy court and its money-oriented processes.

Several survivor advocates have celebrated the idea of giving victims a voice in bankruptcy court, saying the measure is especially meaningful with Lori and other church officials there to listen.