Potential settlement with Diocese of Rockville Centre vote delayed to give survivors of sex abuse more time

Newsday [Melville NY]

April 4, 2024

By Bart Jones

A vote by hundreds of clergy sex abuse survivors on a proposed $200 million settlement by the Catholic Church on Long Island has been delayed, attorneys for survivors said.

Survivors were supposed to submit their ballots by March 22, but the deadline has been pushed back to April 12, said James Stang, the main lawyer representing the survivors committee in bankruptcy proceedings involving the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The results are expected to be known by April 15. The balloting is being conducted by Epiq, a court-approved global technology company that works in the legal industry and with corporations.

Stang and other attorneys said the balloting was delayed to give survivors more time to vote, since the process was complicated for some.

The diocese declined to comment. Some 600 survivors have filed lawsuits against it.

The bankruptcy proceedings have been going on for three-and-a-half years, with at least $100 million in legal fees accumulated.

Some attorneys for survivors say negotiations with the diocese are at loggerheads, with the church’s latest offer a final one before the bankruptcy proceedings are possibly ended by a judge or the diocese itself.

At least one attorney is predicting survivors will reject the $200 million proposal.

“The indications I’ve been getting are that the diocese’s plan is going to be overwhelmingly rejected,” said Jordan Merson, a Manhattan-based attorney representing 20 survivors.

He said all 20 of his clients have voted against it, partly because they believe the amount of money they would receive is far too little given the abuse they suffered.

To have the proposal approved, the diocese needs 75% of survivors to vote yes, Merson said. “I think it’ll be 75% no. At least.”

If the proposal is rejected, one possibility is that the cases will revert to state civil court, which is where they were when the diocese declared bankruptcy in October 2020.

The cases stem from the 2019 Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window — later extended to two years because of the pandemic — for childhood victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits against perpetrators regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

Warning that payouts for the cases would cause financial ruin, the diocese filed for bankruptcy. The cases were then moved to federal bankruptcy court.

The diocese is urging the survivors to accept its latest proposal — which it called its final one — as the best way to guarantee they will be paid and also allow the church to continue functioning.

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

Bart Jonesbart.jones@newsday.com

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.”