Connecticut Diocese files for bankruptcy over abuse complaints

NORWICH, Connecticut (AP) – A Roman Catholic Diocese of Connecticut filed for federal bankruptcy on Thursday to resolve dozens of lawsuits alleging abuse of teenage students decades ago at the school’s old academy Mount Saint John, a residential treatment center for troubled youth in Deep River.

Documents filed by the Diocese of Norwich, which oversaw the facility, say it has between $ 50 million and $ 100 million in estimated liabilities owed to 50 to 99 creditors. To date, nearly 60 former residents of the school have sued the diocese and a former bishop for damages, exceeding the diocese’s current financial capacity to pay, according to a statement released by the diocese.

“A Chapter 11 bankruptcy will allow the court to centralize these lawsuits, as well as help the diocese manage its litigation expenses and preserve adequate financial resources for all essential ministries,” Bishop Michael R Cote said in a statement. “If the diocese had not filed for bankruptcy, it would not be able to ensure that all people who file complaints are treated fairly and have equal access to available funds. “

Depending on the record, the diocese has between $ 10 million and $ 50 million in assets.

Lawyer Kelly Reardon, who represents six former students of the school, said the filing could delay the resolution of their claims, but she hopes the diocese will be transparent about its finances and that victims will ultimately receive as much compensation. as possible.

“I hope there will be enough money in the total estate so that each person can receive 100% compensation,” she said. “But, unfortunately, in these situations there is usually not enough money, so it’s more a matter of what percentage of the value of your case are you going to get? “

Parishes, cemeteries, schools and religious orders in the diocese are not part of the Chapter 11 repository, which should not have a direct impact on the day-to-day operations of these entities or on the employment status, salaries and benefits of members of the diocese. employees or retirees, the bishop said.

“Today’s filing puts all civil actions, judgments, collection activities and related legal actions against the diocese on hold,” the statement said. The US bankruptcy court is expected to set a deadline for individuals and organizations to file financial claims against the diocese.

“The full extent of the responsibilities of the diocese will not be known until after the expiration of the claims deadline,” the statement said. The Diocese of Norwich was established in 1953. It covers half of the state’s eight counties – Middlesex, New London, Tolland and Windham in Connecticut, as well as Fishers Island, New York. The smallest diocese in the state, it has around 228,000 parishioners

In 2018, 24 first men filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Norwich and former Bishop Daniel Reilly, claiming they were fondled, sodomized and raped while attending Mount Saint John Academy by two Christian brothers and at least two other staff between 1986 and 2000. The boys, aged 11 to 15, had been placed in the now-defunct school by the State Department of Children and Family or the state justice system. DCF has not been named as a defendant in these lawsuits.

The Diocese of Norwich said Thursday it was the 31st and most recent Catholic religious organization in the United States to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As of May 2021, 19 of the first bankruptcies have led to a successful reorganization while 11 of the most recent have been filed. reorganizations are underway, said the diocese.

“Ours is not the first diocese to undergo a reorganization,” Côté said in a video message, calling the decision the “most important news” he has had to announce in his 18 years at the helm. of the diocese.

Last October, a Roman Catholic diocese on the outskirts of New York sought redress in a torrent of lawsuits filed after the state suspended the statute of limitations to prosecute for sexual abuse by priests. The Rockville Center Diocese, which encompasses much of Long Island and 1.4 million Catholics, has said in seeking Chapter 11 protection that it will ask a bankruptcy court to stay all cases so they can be resolved together – a process, he says. is fairer, but according to victims, it limits their ability to find out the truth.

“The financial burden of the litigation has been severe and has only made the COVID-19 pandemic worse,” Bishop John Barres said in a video and letter on the diocese’s website. “Our goal is to ensure that all victims of clergy sexual abuse, and not just a few who were the first to bring legal action, receive fair and equitable compensation.”

Charges of abuse at the Mount Saint John School Academy in Connecticut are not the only complaints against the Diocese of Norwich. In a separate case in 2019, Cote released the names of 43 priests who served in the Diocese of Connecticut and were the subject of “substantial allegations” of child sexual abuse since 1953. At that time, the diocese had paid approximately $ 7.7 million since 1977 in victim settlements in nine cases, 23 of which are still pending.

Côté said at the time that he was “gravely sorry”.

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Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.

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