Two More Catholic Dioceses File for Bankruptcy Protection

By Joseph H. Saunders
Legal Examiner - Saunders and Walker Attorney Blog
October 03, 2020

In a widely anticipated move, the Diocese of Rockville Centre has filed for federal bankruptcy protection.  In their announcement yesterday, diocesan officials blamed a surge of priest abuse lawsuits and COVID-19 for the bankruptcy filing.  What wasn’t mentioned concerns the fact that a bankruptcy filing allows the Diocese of Rockville Centre to put a hold on the lawsuits, reduce their financial obligations to survivors of sexual abuse, and, most importantly, allows the Diocese to maintain secrecy about how they handled the priest abuse crisis.

While not the largest diocese in the state of New York, Rockville Centre rivals Buffalo in terms of corruption and the poor manner in which survivors have been treated.  Less than two decades ago, the Diocese was the subject of a grand jury investigation for its handling of the sexual abuse of minors.  In the Grand Jury Report, the jurors blasted the Diocese for the manner in which they had handled the situation.  Here is an excerpt from their closing remarks:

Priests  assigned  to  and  working  in  the  Diocese  of  Rockville  Centre  committed  criminal  acts  in  violation  of  New  York  State  Penal  Law  Article  130,  Sex  Offenses,  and  other  statutes  designed to protect the health, safety  and  welfare  of  children.  These criminal acts included, but were not limited to, Rape, Sodomy, Sexual Abuse, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and Use of a Child in a Sexual Performance. Not one priest in the Diocese who knew about these criminal acts reported them to any law enforcement agency.  Frequently,  because  of  the  nature  of  child  sexual  abuse  the  victims  of  this  criminal activity  do  not  and  did  not,  in  these  cases,  disclose  it  until  they  were  adults.  This  was  almost  always  after  the  statute  of  limitations  for  the  criminal  prosecution  of  these  crimes  had  lapsed. Even when offender priests were sent to an out of state Diocese the tolling provisions of the New York  State  Criminal  Procedure  Law  did  not  effectively  work  to  allow  a  criminal  prosecution.  The limitations contained therein precluded the prosecution of offenders living out of the state. The  Grand  Jury  concludes  that  officials  in  the  Diocese  failed  in  their  responsibility  to  protect  children.  They  ignored  credible  complaints  about  the  sexually  abusive  behaviors  of  priests.  They  failed  to  act  on  obvious  warning  signs  of  sexual  abuse  including  instances  where they  were  aware  that  priests  had  children  in  their  private  rooms  in  the  rectory  overnight,  that  priests  were  drinking  alcohol  with  underage  children  and  exposing  them  to  pornography.  Even where a priest disclosed sexually abusive behavior with children officials failed to act to remove him from ministry.”

In spite of this damning Grand Jury Report from 2003, the Diocese of Rockville Centre will undoubtedly be allowed to skirt its civic and fiduciary responsibilities to the people of Long Island.  In spite of the Child Victims’ Act passed last year allowing survivors a path to justice, the Diocese will avoid any real accountability by taking advantage of federal bankruptcy laws.  They will continue to operate with impunity without having to reveal damning details of sexual abuse and cover-up.  The Diocese of Rockville Centre was not the only diocese to take advantage of the bankruptcy provision yesterday.  The Diocese of Camden also filed for bankruptcy, adding insult to injury for survivors in the Camden diocese. For more information click the link below.

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis


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