Clergy sex abuse survivors vote on $200 million settlement offer from Diocese of Rockville Centre

Newsday [Melville NY]

March 1, 2024

By Bart Jones

Survivors of clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church on Long Island will vote on a “final” proposed $200 million settlement the church is offering, though attorneys for survivors say they expect it to be rejected.

That could mean about 600 abuse cases return to state civil court, where the attorneys contend the settlements could be far higher.

Officials for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the eighth largest in the nation with 1.3 million Catholics, are urging the survivors to accept the plan as the best way to guarantee they will be paid and allow the church to continue functioning.

Survivors started receiving ballots in the mail this week, with a deadline to submit them by March 22.


  • Clergy sex abuse survivors are voting on a $200 million settlement offer from the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
  • The voting, being administered by a court-approved independent firm, has a deadline of March 22.
  • Attorneys for the survivors believe the offer will be rejected.

The diocesan proposal — laid out in a 298-page document — is similar to ones they have made in the past, including what they called their “best and final offer” in October after three years of bankruptcy proceedings. The balloting is being conducted by court-approved Epiq, a global technology company that works in the legal industry and with corporations. 

“The overwhelming likelihood is the plan proposed by the diocese is going to be voted down and then the [bankruptcy] case is going to be dismissed,” said Jordan Merson, a Manhattan-based attorney who is representing some of the victims.

“Survivors will finally have their chance to go to court and get the justice that they seek,” he added.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said the church’s proposal would allow survivors to receive “significant upfront payments,” with more money possible later through settlement trusts, for instance.

If the proposal is rejected and the cases go back to state civil court, it could “put survivors in the position of competing against one another to pursue recoveries from the Diocese, the parishes, and related parties in New York state court,” Dolan said.

Merson said some survivors would receive as little as $50,000 under the diocese’s proposal, though amounts will vary according to each case.

“A lot of these claims are worth millions of dollars,” he said. “And to tell someone who was raped repeatedly when they were a child by a priest that you’re going to get fifty grand, it’s just insulting.”

Attorneys for the survivors last year proposed a settlement of $450 million.

The abuse cases were originally filed in state civil court under the 2019 New York State Child Victims Act. The law allowed a two-year “look back” window in which child victims of sexual abuse could file lawsuits no matter how long ago it occurred.

By October 2020, the diocese declared bankruptcy, saying payouts from the CVA could leave it in financial ruin. The abuse cases were then moved to bankruptcy court. The diocese has since spent more than $100 million on legal fees in its battle with lawyers for the survivors.

Attorneys for survivors contend the diocese has the financial resources to provide fair compensation.

Richard Tollner, a clergy sex abuse survivor who heads a committee of victims that serves as the voice of all the survivors during the bankruptcy proceedings, said it’s been 16 years since he first started lobbying for the CVA to be passed — and that survivors in the diocese still have not received justice.

“I am not optimistic” the diocese’s latest proposal will be approved, he said.

James Stang, the main lawyer representing the survivors committee in the bankruptcy proceedings, agreed it will probably be rejected, and said it is uncertain what will happen after that.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Martin Glenn in November proposed that several of the sex abuse cases go to trial in state civil court in Nassau County as “test cases” or “bellwether cases” to help set guidelines for a settlement.

Patrick Stoneking, a Manhattan-based attorney representing some survivors, said those trials could start as early as April.

Stang, who is based in Los Angeles, said Glenn “might say let’s see what comes out of the” trials and “maybe people will have a change of mind.”

Glenn had earlier set a deadline of last Oct. 31 for the parties to reach an agreement, but they failed to do so.

The diocese previously paid out a total of about $62 million to 350 survivors under an “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” that began in 2017.

It has raised funds by selling off some of its properties, including $5.2 million for its headquarters in Rockville Centre and $20 million for 20 acres of land surrounding its former seminary in Lloyd Harbor.

The diocese has “cut budgets to the bone to provide the best possible offer it can in good faith,” Dolan said. “The goal has always been to provide a fair and equitable resolution for all claimants while allowing the Church, her schools, and her charitable work to continue.”

Bart Jones has covered religion, immigration and major breaking news at Newsday since 2000. A former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in Venezuela, he is the author of “HUGO! The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution.”