Tag Archives: Child Victims Act

Buffalo Diocese files for bankruptcy after hundreds of sex abuse claims

Buffalo Diocese files for bankruptcy after hundreds of sex abuse claims. Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has led the diocese since December.
By Cayla Harris
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Buffalo-Diocese-files-for-bankruptcy-after-hundred-15091849.php

The Buffalo Diocese, temporarily headed by Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, filed for bankruptcy Friday morning as it grapples with hundreds of lawsuits alleging decades of child sexual abuse and cover-ups.

It is the second New York diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – which allows for reorganization of assets instead of liquidation. The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy in September. The decision was largely anticipated as the Buffalo diocese, facing more than 250 lawsuits over the past six months alleging sexual abuse, has emerged as the most-named defendant in all Child Victims Act cases.

The state’s Child Victims Act in August opened a one-year window temporarily eliminating the statute of limitations for civil cases involving sex crimes. Since then, more than 1,600 cases have been filed statewide, many of them resurfacing decades-old allegations.

In a filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of New York – first reported by The Buffalo News – the Buffalo Diocese identified $10 million to $50 million in assets and $50 million to $100 million in liabilities. In court filings, Scharfenberger asserted that the filing was necessary “in order to respond to claims stemming from the Child Victims Act in an equitable and comprehensive manner, and to reorganize the financial affairs of the Diocese in order to permit it to continue to fulfill its ministries to the Catholic faithful of the Diocese.”

“We have no more urgent work than to bring about justice and healing for those harmed by the scourge of sexual abuse,” Scharfenberger said in a Friday statement.

The decision puts all lawsuits against the diocese on pause as leaders determine how best to address the allegations and compensate accusers. It does not affect the daily operations of local parishes.

Scharfenberger, who is temporarily leading the Buffalo Diocese after the resignation of its former Bishop Richard Malone in December, will address the media in Buffalo at a 1 p.m. news conference. He had been weighing the decision for months, repeatedly telling reporters that a decision would come “soon.”

“Whatever we do has to be done in a way that puts victims first,” Scharfenberger told Albany reporters in December, acknowledging that bankruptcy could freeze litigation but may also offer more equal payouts to survivors who have filed claims. “We want to look at all of those things, and then that might be the best way to go.”

He said at the time that the Albany Diocese is not considering a bankruptcy filing, and likely would not for “the next year or so.” The Albany Diocese has also faced its share of Child Victims Act cases, though far fewer, at about 65. The Albany Diocese serves about half the number of Catholics as the Buffalo Diocese.

“The decision in Buffalo does not affect the Diocese of Albany in any way,” Albany Diocese spokeswoman Mary DeTurris-Poust said in an email. “Until we know the full financial scope of the CVA as it relates to the Diocese of Albany, we cannot and will not make any decisions. We have nothing to announce, other than that we continue to respond in justice to survivors of abuse and urge anyone who has suffered such abuse to come forward.”

Survivors and attorneys, reacting to Friday’s filing, criticized the decision as a roundabout way of denying victims their day in court. They noted that bankruptcy allows the diocese to avoid releasing certain information and files about priests and clergy accused of abusing children – documents that would typically be unearthed during the discovery process.

Manhattan-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents dozens of survivors suing the Buffalo Diocese, said the diocese “is using bankruptcy to continue to conceal the truth about predator priests.”

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, a sponsor of the Child Victims Act, said the filing could help reveal “how deep the pockets are of the institution” – but at the expense of preventing survivors from speaking out in front of a judge in a public courtroom.

“It’s despicable that an institution that was responsible for the abuse of thousands of young people across the state of New York would try to hide behind the bankruptcy laws to prevent these individuals from receiving the entirety of the claim due to them,” he said.

Buffalo Diocese facing backlash for seeking federal funds, relief in CVA cases

Buffalo Diocese facing backlash for seeking federal funds, relief in CVA cases
By Cayla Harris
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Buffalo-Diocese-facing-backlash-for-seeking-15251143.php

Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse are denouncing the Buffalo Diocese this week after the institution, temporarily headed by Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, moved forward with two legal filings that activists say diminish victims’ experiences and could allow the diocese to dodge consequences for decades of alleged abuse and cover-up.

The most recent filing on Tuesday was a lawsuit against the federal Small Business Administration for denying the diocese’s application for relief under the CARES Act because of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. It followed a separate legal action on Saturday in bankruptcy court, in which the diocese argued that all cases filed against the institution under the state’s Child Victims Act, including those that also name local parishes and schools, should be permanently suspended.

Last summer, the act opened a one-year “look-back” window allowing survivors of sexual abuse to pursue previously time-barred cases against their alleged offenders. The Buffalo Diocese, the most-named defendant in claims filed under the act, is facing more than 250 actions.

“The Buffalo Diocese should not use the current pandemic as an excuse to evade responsibility for the decades-long abuse of children,” said Michael Polenberg, the vice president of government affairs for the victims advocacy group Safe Horizon. “Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse deserves to hold offenders – including negligent institutions – responsible for their actions. That is the promise of the Child Victims Act … and that’s what survivors deserve.”

All lawsuits lodged against the diocese have been frozen since February, when the institution filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows for reorganization of assets instead of liquidation. Some cases that also name separate Catholic entities where the abuse allegedly occurred would typically be allowed to move to trial at a later date – a move the diocese said would open the door to a cumbersome and costly discovery process.

Buffalo Diocese spokesman Greg Tucker declined to make Scharfenberger, who took the helm of the scandal-plagued diocese in December, available for an interview on either topic.

On the federal stimulus funds, Tucker said the institution decided to sue the SBA because it “exceeded its authority” in denying money to an organization moving through bankruptcy proceedings. The CARES Act “makes no reference to disqualifying applications on the basis of an entity in Chapter 11 reorganization,” he said.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and CVA sponsor, said in a statement Tuesday that the lawsuit “is just the latest example of the church failing to take responsibility for decades of egregious misconduct. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

In reference to the proceeding in bankruptcy court, Tucker said suspending all cases would allow the diocese to negotiate settlements “without the distraction of piecemeal litigation” and would also make the payouts more equitable for all survivors, not just those who filed first.

“While the process continues, any lawsuits against the diocese are halted to allow the diocese and its creditors to come to agreement on settlement terms,” he said. “The action that the diocese recently filed is intended to provide the same ‘breathing spell’ for parishes, schools and other Catholic entities in the hopes of achieving a global resolution.”

Stacey Benson, an attorney with the Manhattan-based law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates that represents several plaintiffs suing the Buffalo Diocese, said the filing was an “unnecessary legal tactic (that) is insensitive to survivors of child sexual abuse who have already been deeply harmed by the abuse they suffered, as well as by the actions and inactions of top diocesan officials.”

Catholic Church spent $10 million on lobbyists in fight to stymie priest sex abuse suits

Catholic Church spent $10 million on lobbyists in fight to stymie priest sex abuse suits
The money was spent in eight northeastern states where bills to aid victims of clerical sex abuse were in the works.
By Corky Siemaszko
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/catholic-church-spent-10-million-lobbyists-fight-stymie-priest-sex-n1013776

The U.S. Catholic Church spent $10.6 million on lobbyists to prevent victims of clerical sex abuse from suing for damages.

According to a new report, the money was doled out from 2011 through 2018 in eight northeastern states where bills to reform statute of limitations laws were either in the works or being considered.

“This report lays out what we have known all along — that the Catholic Church refuses to take responsibility for the decades of abuse that took place knowingly under its watch,” said attorney Stephen Weiss, who works for one of the law firms that commissioned the study.

“Statute of limitations reforms give survivors more time to obtain some measure of closure on the atrocities committed against them,” attorney Gerald Williams added. “The church has yet to implement meaningful reforms, and by working to prevent these laws from passing, the church is clearly demonstrating that it does not stand with survivors.”

In Pennsylvania, where currently victims of child sex abuse can come forward with criminal allegations until the age of 50 and can file civil claims until age 30, the church spent $5,322,979 to keep those limitations in place, according to the report, “Church Influencing State: How the Catholic Church Spent Millions Against Survivors of Clergy Abuse.”

The report was commissioned by Seeger Weiss LLP, Williams Cedar LLC, Abraham Watkins and the Simpson Tuegel Law Firm, which collectively represent 300 survivors of clergy sex abuse nationwide. The data in the report was obtained from public filings in the individual states.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose blockbuster grand jury report last year identified 301 “predator priests” in six dioceses who were alleged to have abused more than 1,000 children, has been leading the charge to lift those statutes of limitations.
“The extensive lobbying by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania against the reforms recommended by the Grand Jury proves what I have said all along: the Church cannot be trusted to police itself,” Shapiro said. “It’s reprehensible that the Church continues to spend significant sums of money fighting these reforms, instead of protecting and supporting the victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return an NBC News request for comment.

In New York, the church spent $2,912,772 in what ultimately was a failed bid to prevent the passage of the Child Victims Act, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Feb. 14. It allows child sexual abuse victims to sue their abuser or institutions until age 55. Previously the cutoff was age 23.

Of that money, 80 percent went to the Catholic Conference Policy Group Inc., which was tasked with lobbying on “statute of limitations, legislative issues and liability issues,” the report found.

“I think it’s incredibly troubling that parishioners who on Sundays contributed to the church collections may have been inadvertently funding lobbying efforts against victims of sex abuse seeking legal redress,” New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who championed the Child Victims Act, said. “Three million dollars that went for lobbying could have done a lot of good elsewhere, including soup kitchens, after-school programs for children, support for seniors. In my district, a Catholic school that is closing might perhaps have stayed open if that money had been used for better causes.”

Shortly before the New York state Legislature took up the Child Victims Act, Cardinal Timothy Dolan called in an op-ed published in The New York Daily News for measures that would avoid “breaking” the Roman Catholic Church.

In an email to NBC News, Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, said: “All of our lobbying activity is reported as required by law to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and has always been publicly available.”

“As far as the Child Victims Act, while we did raise concerns about the one-year look back, ultimately when sponsors amended the bill at our request to provide an opportunity for recourse to survivors in public institutions, the Catholic Conference dropped its opposition this year,” he wrote.

When asked for comment, New York Diocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling referred NBC News to Poust.

In Connecticut, where advocates for victims of priest sex abuse are presently pushing for the elimination of statutes of limitations for major sex crimes, the church spent $875,261, according to the report.

The report also said the church spent $633,458 in New Jersey where Gov. Phil Murphy last month signed legislation that allows child victims to sue up until they turn 55 or “within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm,” according to The Associated Press.

During that time period, the church spent $537,551 in Massachusetts, $124,260 in Maine, and $61,961 in Rhode Island.

“That is completely inaccurate,” said James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. “I have no idea where the writer of this report came up with this figure. They never checked with me for any input before they wrote this report.”

And in New Hampshire, where legislation to lift or amend the statute of limitations has yet to be introduced, the church has spent $134,345, according to the report.

Tom Bebbington, a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, said it “advocates before the state legislature on issues of importance for the good of all citizens including abortion, assisted suicide, education, preventing human trafficking, and repeal of the death penalty.”

“The services of lobbying professionals were used during the time period of this report for advocacy on all of these issues and more, but no lobbyist was engaged to advocate on behalf of the Diocese on statute of limitations legislation,” he insisted.

David Clohessy, the former director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said church funds should never be used to fight clerical abuse victims.

“It’s appalling that parishioners’ donations are used to keep child sex crimes — and those who committed and concealed them — covered up,” said Clohessy. “There’s no better indication of how bishops think and act than where they put their flocks’ funds. And there are few more egregious and reckless ways to spend churchgoers’ contributions than to put their kids at risk by fighting secular reforms that help expose predators.”

Asked if he believes the church was willing to spend that kind of money on lobbyists because it feared payouts for victims would cost 10 times more, Weiss said that appears to be the case.

“The church made the soulless decision to spend 10 million of its dollars to evade its responsibility to those harmed by clergy abuse, rather that use those funds toward the healing process,” he said. “Clearly these expenditures were aimed at protecting the church’s financial interests, not at doing the right thing.”

Facing 250 sex abuse lawsuits, Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy

Facing 250 sex abuse lawsuits, Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy
Second diocese in New York to file
By Charlie Specht and Eileen Buckley
https://www.wkbw.com/news/i-team/facing-250-sex-abuse-lawsuits-diocese-of-buffalo-declares-bankruptcy

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which is facing nearly 250 lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse, has declared bankruptcy.

Aside from the obvious financial implications, the diocese’s formal Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing means that many of the victims of clergy sexual abuse may not anytime soon get the answers that have long been hidden in secret diocesan archives regarding pedophile priests.

But there is still a chance that those hidden files could be forced as part of a bankruptcy settlement, as has happened in other dioceses.

Because the cases will soon be shifted from state civil court to U.S. Bankruptcy Court, survivors of clergy sexual abuse are likely to receive compensation, though it is unclear how much per case the diocese would be required to pay out.

According to bankruptcy documents, filed in federal court, the Buffalo Diocese is facing between $50 million and $100 million in estimated liability.

Apostolic Administrator Bishop Edward Scharfenberger appeared in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Buffalo Friday morning just hours after filing for Chapter 11 protection for the Diocese of Buffalo.

Scharfenberger later appeared at a news conference at the diocese with attorneys.

“I’m careful not to use the word bankruptcy, even though we are in a bankruptcy court, because a lot of people are under the impression that the diocese is running out of money – we can’t meet our obligations to our employees – which is not true,” Scharfenberger told reporters.

According to the court filing the diocese owes $3.5 million to a list of 20 top creditors. M&T Bank tops the list at $1.6 million, but the other 19 are victims who filed child sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese. But there are actually more tahn 250 cases filed against the diocese.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Carl Bucki held what he called an “emergency hearing” hours after the filing.

Bucki called the bankruptcy an “extraordinary process”.

The judge asked if priests with substantiated allegations against them are being paid by the diocese.

7 Eyewitness Nee asked that question at the news conference with attorney Steve Donato responding.

“To the extent that there is a claim owned to a clergy on substantiated abuse list, which is on the website, to the extend that there were any funds owed to them as of today due prior to the filing — those will not be paid,” replied Donato.

Bishop Scharfenberger says Catholic schools and parishes are not part of bankruptcy filing.

“The health of the diocese is in the health of it’s parishes and the same with catholic charities and other affiliated agencies – they are not involved in this,” responded Scharfenberger.

The bishop says no parish donations will be touched and remain separate from bankruptcy.

“But not for the purposes of doing settlements — in other words – no money comes out of collections in order to resolve claims,” Scharfenberger remarked.

The bishop says the filing is “not a stunt” to deflect from the lawsuits filed against the church.

The next bankrupcty court hearing is schedueld for March 26th at 10 a.m.

The bankruptcy means the church could be forced to sell properties and to make appeals for more money from parishioners, but it also paves the way for the Catholic Church in Western New York to — after its debts are paid off — emerge from the crisis with its mission and services still intact.

The dramatic move comes after the Diocese of Rochester became the first Roman Catholic diocese in New York State to file for bankruptcy on Sept. 12.

It is no doubt one result of the Child Victims Act, which was passed in January 2019 and allows victims of child sexual abuse in all institutions — not only the Catholic Church — a one-year “window” period in which they can sue the institutions to prove they were responsible for the abuse.

To date, more than 300 Child Victims Act lawsuits have been filed in Western New York.

At least 250 lawsuits allege abuse by clergy or employees in the Diocese of Buffalo, making the diocese the most-sued entity in all of New York State under the new law.

In December, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned after an investigation of his leadership by the Vatican. Revelations about his behind-the-scenes efforts to conceal sexual misconduct came to light after his two secretaries, Siobhan O’Connor and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, became whistleblowers and provided documents and audio recordings to 7 Eyewitness News.

On Feb. 4, interim bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger announced the closure of Christ the King Seminary, citing financial pressures.

There was growing pressure for Malone to resign since August 2018, when the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team revealed that Malone:

The pressure on Malone intensified in September of last year, when the I-Team published secret audio recordings where Malone attempted to conceal sexual misconduct allegations involving Rev. Jeffrey Nowak. Malone called the priest “dangerous” but allowed him to remain pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians for more than six months with no notification to parishioners.

The diocese is also under investigation by the FBI and the State Attorney General.