Deal Puts off Abuse Cases against Parishes

By Beth Miller
News Journal
November 6, 2009

WILMINGTON More than 100 plaintiffs who are suing the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington for child sexual abuse by diocesan priests agreed today not to pursue their claims against the parishes until the diocese's Chapter 11 bankruptcy process is complete.

Francis G. DeLuca

In exchange, the diocese and parishes agreed to release the personnel records of 11 priests named in the suits and data on the insurance policies it holds for such claims.

A series of eight jury trials — all with claims related to former priest Francis G. DeLuca — was to begin Oct. 19 in Delaware Superior Court. But the Diocese filed for bankruptcy the night before, putting all of the cases it faced on hold. Plaintiffs' attorneys then argued that they should be able to continue their cases against the three parishes involved in those eight claims, because none of the parishes had filed for bankruptcy.

But today, attorney Thomas Neuberger whose firm represents all eight plaintiffs reached agreement with the diocese that his clients would not pursue the parishes in exchange for the records. And James Stang, representing the other plaintiffs, said they, too, would agree not to pursue separate cases against the parishes while the bankruptcy proceeding continued.

The agreement was reached before testimony was to begin in the courtroom of U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Christopher Sontchi.

Stang, attorney for the newly formed Committee of Unsecured Debtors which represents all of the plaintiffs in abuse-related cases against the diocese said the agreement would benefit all plaintiffs against the diocese, even those not represented by Neuberger.

"The committee is taking a bigger picture in view of how this relates to other lawsuits," Stang said. "We believe it reflects pluses for all survivors, not just for the eight involved in this litigation. We believe it will move the case forward to accommodate the interests of our constituency."

Diocese attorney Tony Flynn said the agreement will allow the diocese to focus its attention on the bankruptcy proceeding without having to tend to ongoing trials in Superior Court.

None of the diocese's parishes has declared bankruptcy. The agreement includes records of diocesan priests only. Cases against priests in religious orders including the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and the Capuchin friars are not part of the agreement. And none of the religious orders has filed for bankruptcy.

Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784


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