A Roman Catholic diocese in the New York City suburbs on Thursday became the largest in the nation to declare bankruptcy in the face of more than 200 lawsuits over sexual abuse allegations.
Bishop John O. Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island posted a video message saying the church was unable “to carry out its spiritual, charitable and education missions” because of “the increasing burden of litigation expenses,” after New York lawmakers passed the Child Victims Act, which lifted the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse accusations.
In its filing, the diocese listed up to $500 million in estimated liabilities from the lawsuits.
The diocese, which encompasses much of Long Island’s approximately 1.4 million Catholic residents, is the eighth largest in the United States by population. By filing for Chapter 11 protections, the church said it would ask a bankruptcy court to put all pending cases on hold so that they can be settled together.
According to diocese leadership, this method will be more equitable. However, survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of priests in the Catholic Church say that the move will limit their ability to get the truth.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer representing people who say they were abused by clergy in the Rockville Centre Diocese, criticized the filing as “strategic, cowardly and wholly self-serving.”
The Rockville Centre Diocese started a compensation program in 2017 for victims of sexual assault and said it had paid more than $62 million to approximately 350 individuals.
The New York law gives people until next August to sue over long-ago allegations. Three other dioceses in the state filed for bankruptcy within the last 13 months: Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. At least 20 Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy since 2004, according to BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that tracks sex-abuse allegations within the church.
Since the 1980s, Catholic dioceses across the U.S. have paid out approximately $4 billion over claims of sexual abuse. The Associated Press estimates that new lookback laws like the Child Victims Act could result in at least an additional $4 billion in payouts by the church.
According to Barres, most of Rockville Centre’s operations will continue in the face of the bankruptcy filing, and employees and vendors will be paid for their services. Parishes and schools, Barres said, are considered separate legal entities and are not covered in the bankruptcy filing.
This report includes information from The Associated Press.
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