Abuse survivors demand release from Diocese of Rochester bankruptcy process
A group of clergy abuse survivors have asked a federal judge to stay an order preventing their cases from being heard in state court during the Diocese of Rochester bankruptcy process.
Lawyers for the survivors on Wednesday filed a motion to allow twenty cases to be heard in state court, rather than as part of the bankruptcy case. They say the process has been too slow, describing “months of mediation shutdown.”
“The diocese and its insurers have not offered reasonable compensation to sexual abuse claimants through mediation,” they argue in court documents.
Lawyers say the mediation process would benefit from allowing “targeted and representative cases” to move forward in state court.
A spokesperson for the diocese offered a different assessment of the situation.
“The diocese has acted in good faith during several mediation sessions and is committed to continuing these negotiations in good faith with its insurers and the creditors’ committee,” said Doug Mandelaro, director of the office of management and communications from the diocese. “The Diocese believes that an ongoing dialogue and negotiation between the Diocese, its insurers and the Creditors Committee, guided by reasonable and realistic expectations on the part of all parties involved and a dedication to a swift and fair resolution for all survivors, is the best way forward. for the benefit of survivors. “
The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2019, saying it could not afford to pay the compensation sought in a flood of new civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by its priests over the course of of the last decades.
The 20 survivors who are asking to move forward are a cross-section of the hundreds of abuse complaints that have been filed in the bankruptcy process, they said in court documents.
“[They] were mistreated by twelve (12) different abusers, and their abuse involves related claims against at least fourteen (14) different parishes, one (1) summer camp, one (1) parish elementary school, two (2) orders religious and one (1) diocesan high school managed by a religious order ”, according to court documents. “[They] were between six (6) and fifteen (15) years old when their violence began. “
The alleged abuse of these 20 survivors occurred between 1961 and 1985.
After:Catholic Diocese of Rochester bans protecting identity of accused priests
After:500 sexual abuse complaints on the table in the Diocese of Rochester bankruptcy case
About 500 complaints of sexual abuse were filed against the diocese as part of the bankruptcy process. Many of these complaints were first filed under the auspices of New York’s Child Victims Act, which opened a brief window for victims to bring civil suits for past abuse.
The bankruptcy filing put an end to these cases proceeding one by one in state courts. Instead, they would be scrutinized and settled en masse, with settlements paid through court-supervised bankruptcy proceedings.
In a letter to parishioners last September to mark the first anniversary of the deposit, Bishop Salvatore Matano said discussions with insurers were about to begin, with the help of a court-appointed mediator.
“This begins part of the process of determining the funds available to settle claims and negotiate reasonable settlements,” the bishop wrote.
But nine months have passed and it does not seem that such a solution is near.
“It’s time to get the survivors’ cases and stories to the people who can decide: the jury,” said lawyer Jeff Anderson, who, along with his partner Steve Boyd, represents about 170 survivors in the bankruptcy case. of the Diocese of Rochester. “The diocese and the bishop have held back the survivors for too long… it is high time the stories of these survivors were heard.”
Lawyers have suggested that rather than pushing these cases to a conclusion, the bankruptcy process has just presented survivors with another hurdle.
“Historically, Catholic dioceses have used the Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a shield to stop litigation and prevent jury trials, allowing the institution to continue its operations without interruption while keeping secrets, hiding assets and making silence the survivors, ”Anderson said in a statement.
Mandelaro countered that claim, saying the process gives all victims of abuse a clear path for their complaints to be addressed.
“As we stated when we filed for Chapter 11 in September 2019, the goal of the Diocese is to conclude this matter as quickly as possible in order to continue the work of healing and reconciliation, both for the survivors and our diocesan family, ”Mandelaro said Thursday.
Rochester was the 20th American Catholic diocese to follow this path, all motivated in large part by disputes over sexual abuse. Seven other dioceses have requested Chapter 11 protection from Rochester, including the Dioceses of Buffalo, Syracuse and Rockville Center.
“We want to assure the survivors and their families who have been injured for so long and who have filed complaints against the Diocese of Rochester that this is not the end,” Boyd said. “Bankruptcy will not deter survivors from calling to account, and we are ready to fight alongside them. “
A federal judge recently blocked an attempt by the Diocese of Rochester to protect the identities of priests accused of sexual abuse during its bankruptcy proceedings, after the Democrat and Chronicle opposed this practice.
Sean lahman is a surveillance reporter for the Democrat & Chronicle, which is part of the USA Today Network. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @seanlahman.
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