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Faced with defending more than 200 pending sexual abuse lawsuits, the Diocese of Rockville Centre has filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition, Bishop John Barres announced today.
The diocese, which serves the more than 1.4 million Roman Catholics of Long Island, is seeking reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
There have been 209 lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Rockville Centre in the last year, since the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act, which allows adults who were victims of sexual assault as children to file lawsuits against alleged abusers or entities. The new law opened a one-year window of opportunity to file suit. The state extended that for another year due to the pandemic.
Barres announced the bankruptcy filing in a video message posted today on the diocese website. In the video, Barres sought to assure Long Island Catholics that the bankruptcy filing would not affect local parishes and schools, which he said are separate legal entities and therefore not included in the filing.
He said in light the financial burden of the lawsuits filed in the past year, it became “clear … that the diocese could not continue to carry out its spiritual, charitable and educational missions.”
The diocese’s financial resources were already depleted by the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, created by the diocese in 2017, which Barres said today had already “assisted approximately 350 survivors of sexual abuse.”
“During this period of restructuring, most diocesan operations and ministries will continue without interruption,” Barres said. “We anticipate that current and future financial liquidity will be sufficient to fund normal operations and services during this restructuring process.”
Barres said any settlement made as a result of the restructuring “will not include any parish offertory donations collected during Mass or any contributions to the Catholic Ministries Appeal.” The settlement will be paid out of the assets of the diocese and insurance coverage.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, whose firm has filed 73 survivor lawsuits against the Diocese of Rockville Centre since the passage of the Child Victims Act, said “there are many more” claims to follow “and the bishop knows it.”
The diocese, Anderson said, had sued to overturn the statute on constitutional grounds and lost. It brought another suit seeking to expose the identities of the plaintiffs, who under the law can file as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe,” and lost that suit too, Anderson said.
With the bankruptcy filing, all of the lawsuits have now been taken out of state court and put under the bankruptcy court’s supervision, Anderson said in a press conference this afternoon.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is the third Roman Catholic diocese in New York State to file for bankruptcy protection since the Nee York Child Victims Act took effect.
“It’s part of a coordinated strategy among the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of New York State,” Anderson said.
The strategy is to avoid the trial discovery process which would require the bishops to disclose the files and histories of all the offenders, which the bishops have kept secret for so many years, Anderson said. They also want to keep hidden the real histories employed by the Catholic bishops to maintain secrecy about the offenders and avoid full accountability.
“The New York Catholic Bishops have repeatedly used the Diocese of Rockville Centre as a battleground to protect predator priests and those who protected them, while intimidating child sexual abuse survivors and attempting to strip them of their rights provided under the New York Child Victims Act,” Anderson said.
He demanded that Barres release the names of all clergy accused of sexual misconduct and the identities of all church officials in the diocese, past and present, who were “complicit in concealing the known histories and identities from the public, parishioners and law enforcement.”
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