Hundreds of Clergy Abuse Lawsuits Move Catholic Dioceses to Seek Bankruptcy Protection
Within hours of one another, two of the country’s largest dioceses filed for bankruptcy after facing waves of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits. On October 1, the Diocese of Rockville Centre in Long Island, NY, and the Roman Diocese of Camden in Camden, NJ filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, seeking financial protection after paying millions to victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Rockville Diocese Bankruptcy
CNN News reports Rockville Centre has been named in over 200 sexual abuse lawsuits, plaintiffs claiming clergy members in the Rockville diocese sexually abused them as children. So far, Rockville Center has compensated around 320 clergy abuse survivors since 2017 as part of an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program.
Rockville announced their filing for bankruptcy in a video posted to the diocese’s website. Bishop John Olivier Barres indicated that the diocese could not afford to litigate the large number of cases, citing the pandemic as an additional financial burden.
"What became clear was that the diocese was not going to be able to continue to carry out its spiritual, charitable and educational missions if it were to continue to shoulder the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases," Barres said in the video. The Bishop indicated that the diocese’s ministries would continue to operate, and the bankruptcy filing would not impact employee wages or benefit programs.
As the eighth-largest diocese in the country, Rockville’s filing makes it the largest diocese in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy so far. According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Rockville Centre serves over 1.4 million Catholics in the larger New York region.
More than 20 dozen other Catholic dioceses across the country have sought similar bankruptcy protection since 2002 when the first major clergy abuse scandal broke out in Boston. For New York dioceses, the waves of lawsuits came after the state increased the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases and created a one-year lookback window where victims of any age could pursue justice for their abuse.
Camden Diocese Bankruptcy
Similarly, New Jersey signed a bill into law last year that opened a two-year look back window to file claims for past child sex abuse, no matter when the abuse happened. With this window, the Camden diocese faces over 50 lawsuits from clergy abuse victims, which now pend in the courts.
Like Rockville Centre, the Camden diocese announced their filing for bankruptcy on Thursday, as well, Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan releasing a letter to the South Jersey congregation. Sullivan indicated that the Victims Compensation Program and pandemic put a stress on the church’s financial state, moving his approval for filing for bankruptcy.
“If it were just the pandemic, or just the costs of the Victims Compensation Program, we could likely weather the financial impact," he wrote. “However, the combination of these factors has made that impracticable.”
Sullivan indicated the church has already paid over $8 million to victims of clergy abuse in the last few years in settlements and judgements. The Camden diocese oversees 62 parishes across New Jersey with nearly half a million Catholics represented in the diocese.
Attorneys representing victims of clergy abuse say that by seeking bankruptcy protection, these two dioceses are dodging the full weight of their responsibility to victims. “The diocese is running from accountability,” said Greg Gianforcaro, an attorney whose firm has filed over a dozen claims against the diocese for clergy abuse. “Instead of standing up for the people entrusted to their care and acknowledging the harm done to children for which they are responsible, the diocese is taking drastic, self-serving measures to ensure the truth is suppressed.”
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