By Jonathan Schochor and Andrew Janet for The Baltimore Sun
VIEW ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Since the release of the Attorney General’s Report on Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the archdiocese has publicly expressed regret for “past failures” and its “concern and prayers for survivors of child sexual abuse.” At the same time, when it discussed restitution for all those whose lives have been ruined, it uses different phrases, as seen in Archbishop William Lori’s Sept. 5, 2023, message to parishioners: “devastating financial consequences” and “very high damage awards.”
Before the first survivor could file a complaint under the Child Victims Act, the archdiocese preemptively filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This tactic has been used by many other Catholic dioceses across the country. Under the Child Victims Act, there is no statute of limitations and victims may file their claims at any time. However, by pursuing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the archdiocese has circumvented Maryland’s new law by imposing an artificial statute of limitations, requiring victims to file their claims within a prescribed time limit. But what about survivors who don’t file their claims by the date ordered by the bankruptcy court?
Make no mistake: Bankruptcy is about maximizing the archdiocese’s leverage over survivors and securing its financial future while minimizing compensation to survivors. Far from promoting healing and justice for survivors, the archdiocese decision to file for bankruptcy merely inflicts additional harm to those who have already endured unspeakable abuse. That is the playbook for many dioceses.
By selecting bankruptcy and foreclosing survivors from civil litigation, the archdiocese has decided to pay large amounts of legal fees to its attorneys while ensuring that all survivors receive a fraction of the value of their damages, injuries and disabilities. In the still-pending Diocese of Rockville Centre bankruptcy in New York, the diocese’s bankruptcy attorneys have racked up over $70 million and counting in legal fees over three years. Does following this well-trodden path sound like a good use of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s assets?
Bankruptcy will be all the more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive as a result of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s funneling of assets into shell corporations. The Baltimore Sun’s excellent Sept. 29 article on this subject describes the process by which the archdiocese has transferred its real estate holdings into other companies fully controlled by its leadership. Many diocese bankruptcies have included some affiliate entities’ assets in the bankruptcy estate, but only after the parties have expended a great deal of effort and cost to disentangle the diocese’s maneuvers.
Bankruptcy also continues to silence survivors. Those planning to bring claims are now legally prohibited from filing and pursuing them as they wished. What happens now to the abuse survivor who was no longer able to concentrate at school because of the ongoing abuse, and ended up dropping out? To the abuse survivor who was too depressed to finish college or maintain a steady job? To the abuse survivor who can’t afford desperately needed mental health care? To the abuse survivor who turned to drugs and alcohol to escape the painful memories and never got their life back on track? To all the abuse survivors who feel that the archdiocese’s priests took the joy out of their lives? All who timely file as a creditor in the bankruptcy court will get a claim number and be told to wait in line.
If the archdiocese wanted to resolve a large number of claims collectively, they could have done so through a class action or by focusing on negotiating a mass settlement for the victims. These plans would have offered a genuine opportunity for the archdiocese to help survivors live the best quality of life possible and improve their peace of mind significantly. After all, these victims are the archdiocese’s own parishioners.
It would have been the right thing to do. Instead, the archdiocese chose the wrong thing: using its assets to pay tens of millions of dollars to its lawyers instead of its survivors.
Our clients will file claims in the bankruptcy, and we will aspire to maximize their recovery as before. But the archdiocese had an opportunity to be better than the other dioceses taking this route. Instead, they failed to put their money where their supposed “concern and prayers” are.