Judge in Diocese of Buffalo Bankruptcy Sets Bar Date

By Joseph H. Saunders
Legal Examiner - Saunders and Walker Attorney Blog
September 17, 2020

Chief Judge Carl L. Bucki of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of New York ruled Friday that the bar date for abuse victims to submit claims should be the same day that the extended Child Victims Act expires – Aug. 14, 2021.

In making the ruling, Judge Bucki took into consideration the fluid situation involving sexual abuse claims against the beleaguered Diocese. No one knows how many claims will eventually be filed against the Diocese of Buffalo. What is known is that it takes survivors a period of time to make the decision to come forward and file a claim after having suffered in silence for years and sometimes decades.

Bucki also ruled against a request by the diocese to push the bankruptcy proceedings into mediated settlement talks.

Bucki said in his written ruling that such negotiations among the diocese, its insurers and its creditors would be premature because the diocese doesn’t know the full nature and extent of the abuse claims being brought against it and has yet to fully investigate and document historical insurance policies that were in place and might provide coverage on the claims.

The diocese earlier had sued eight insurance carriers in bankruptcy court, and Bucki’s decision means the litigation will move forward. The judge said he aimed to “advance essential exchanges of information” by ordering discovery to proceed, and he warned both parties that “now is not the time to procrastinate in working for a just and fair resolution of rights.”

While the Diocese of Buffalo is not the largest Catholic diocese in the state, the controversy and scandal surrounding the Diocese has outpaced many of the larger dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New York. In December 2019, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone after a year of scandal and whistleblower testimony that revealed the level of corruption and cover-up within the Diocese concerning the sexual abuse of minors.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

The extent of the problems in the Diocese of Buffalo may never be known now that it is in bankruptcy proceedings. However, if you or a loved one were sexually abused by a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, you now know that the time to seek justice and act is limited. We are ready to assist you in a confidential manner.








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