‘They’re self-inflicted wounds’: Buffalo Diocese bankruptcy moves into year four

WKBW [Buffalo NY]

March 4, 2024

By Sean Mickey

Settlement negotiations remain ongoing

Four years after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, justice remains elusive for victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Buffalo Diocese.

Then-bishop Edward Scharfenberger declared the filing was “not a stunt” to deflect from Child Victims Act lawsuits filed against the church.

However, nearly a year into mediated settlement negotiations, attorneys representing survivors said in court that the two sides are at an impasse.

In October, the diocese claimed it would offer $100 million to settle the lawsuits. It was a number that upset survivors.

“The diocese has a game plan and that game plan is to weaponize the bankruptcy court and allow time to take its toll on survivors and victims,” said attorney Mitchell Garbedian, who represents dozens of Buffalo area survivors.

In July, the Diocese of Syracuse announced a $100 million settlement with approximately 400 survivors. There are nearly 900 survivors in Buffalo.

At least 15 survivors who filed suits have died without justice, according to Ilan Scharf, attorney for the committee of unsecured creditors.

In a letter to parishioners last week, Bishop Michael Fisher said the bankruptcy and reorganization process has gone on longer than anyone desired.

“The diocese and its attorneys have worked consistently to pursue a reasonable, fair and equitable resolution to compensate the victims of sexual abuse,” wrote Fisher.

Garabedian said Bishop Fisher must demand settlement negotiations take place in good faith — and come to an agreement soon.

“The diocese, as an entity, allowed the wholesale sexual abuse of children to go on for decades upon decades. They’re self-inflicted wounds,” added Garabedian.

Legal bills for the bankrupt diocese have surpassed $12 million dollars, according to court filings.

In April, a federal bankruptcy court judge could allow individual cases to proceed in state court, a move diocesan lawyers said would create bedlam.

The unsecured creditors committee, made up of six abuse survivors, agreed to place a hold on litigation against non-debtor entities while participating in negotiations.

The agreement expired and the committee opted not to renew it in an attempt to get their day in court. A judge could deny a preliminary injunction from the church so survivors can sue entities like individual parishes.