Syracuse Catholic Diocese Files for Bankruptcy
By Julie McMahon
June 19, 2020
Newly.jpg Newly ordained Bishop Douglas Lucia, at center, presides over the mass. The ordination of Rev. Douglas Lucia as the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, August 8, 2019.Michael Greenlar | mgreenlar@syr
The Roman Catholic Diocese has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, just days after 38 people filed Child Victims Act lawsuits against the church.
Since last year, the diocese has faced dozens of claims that its priests sexually abused children and that officials covered up the abuse for decades. Wednesday, 38 more victims filed lawsuits, including a Central New York grandmother.
Bishop Douglas Lucia, who was installed last year, in court records said diocese officials filed for bankruptcy in order to respond to the Child Victims Act claims, while continuing the church’s ministry.
The diocese has not yet commented on the bankruptcy filing. It has scheduled a news conference for 12:30 p.m. today.
The filings in court show the diocese has assets of more than $10 million but less than $50 million. Lawyers for the diocese from Syracuse firm Bond, Schoeneck & King estimated the diocese has between 100 and 200 creditors and up to $100 million in liabilities.
The filings also revealed the diocese received a $1.3 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help cover expenses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Catholic dioceses across the country have filed for bankruptcy as the church has faced an onslaught of sex abuse cases.
The dioceses in Rochester and Buffalo have filed for bankruptcy, and the Rockville Centre diocese on Long Island has signaled it will likely file. There are eight Catholic diocese in New York state.
Many of the diocese’s creditors include victims with active, disputed Child Victims Act cases against the diocese.
Jeff Anderson, who represents nearly 40 victims who have filed sexual assault lawsuits against the diocese, said he views the filing as a legal tactic to prevent victims from obtaining information about their cases. It effectively puts the ongoing Child Victims Act cases on hold, he said.
“It gives them the opportunity to stop us and the survivors from excavating their secrets, their history, their practices...” he said in an interview with syracuse.com. “Once they file, we can no longer uncover their files, their top officials who have concealed this, and all the offenders that are in their files.”
Anderson said that in addition to filing more cases, his firm was also recently pushing the diocese to release information in already-filed cases.
“They have not turned over any files -- not one file,” he said. “We have made demand after demand. They knew we were forcing that issue. That’s what triggered the timing of the filing.”
Court filings by the diocese offer a response to this accusation, arguing the church “does not seek bankruptcy relief to hide the truth or deny any person a day in court.”
The diocese in recent years has attempted to reconcile with victims and head off lawsuits by them through its Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program. Last year, the diocese paid $11 million to 79 survivors. During the program, the diocese publicly named 57 priests found to have credible claims of child sex abuse against them.
Still, nearly 80 lawsuits have been filed since the program ended.
The Syracuse diocese has 227,431 Catholics living in seven counties: Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego. The diocese has 114 parishes, 11 missions and 22 schools. It has about 3,000 employees.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Public Affairs Reporter Julie McMahon covers courts, government, business, education and other issues affecting taxpayers. She can be reached anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-412-1992