Diocese of Rochester files for bankruptcy after flood of sex abuse lawsuits

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of the Diocese of Rochester. | Screenshot: YouTube

Weeks after being hit with dozens of sex abuse lawsuits, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester in New York has filed for bankruptcy.

“This is a very difficult and painful decision,” Bishop of Rochester, Salvatore R. Matano, said in a letter to the faithful along with a video message Thursday. “After assessing all reasonable possibilities to satisfy the claims, reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions. We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse, while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ.”

The lawsuits are being filed as a result of the new Child Victims Act which extends the statute of limitations for a survivor of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases in New York. It also allows a one-year window, beginning on Aug. 14, for child sex abuse victims to file suit without a statute of limitations. At least 47 sex abuse lawsuits have been filed in Monroe County as of Thursday, local news station WHAM reports. Of those 47, 45 lawsuits name the Diocese of Rochester as a defendant.

Information from the bankruptcy filing, WHAM reports, shows that the diocese has fewer than 1,000 creditors, with between $50 and $100 million in assets and between $100 and $500 million in liabilities. “Various sex abuse claimants” account for 264 of the diocese’s creditors.

“A Chapter 11 filing stops the collection of debts and legal actions and enables the Diocese to form a Reorganization Plan that will detail how available assets will be used to settle claims and negotiate reasonable settlements,” Bishop Matano said in his letter. “Had the Diocese not filed under Chapter 11, it would face multiple civil actions, a slow, unpredictable and costly process that would require years of court involvement and those claimants who filed suits first would receive all available funds to pay victims. As a result, later claimants would receive nothing. Most importantly, such lengthy proceedings delay justice for the victims and only prolong their pain and suffering.”

Attorney Leander James, who represents victims in Rochester, noted, "Bankruptcy is a tool in the law, and like any tool it can be used for good or evil. I hope the bishop and his bankruptcy attorneys use this tool for the good of the survivors, the community and the protection of children."

The diocese, according to WHAM, has already paid out $4.27 million to 43 victims of clergy abuse. James, who has represented thousands of cases in states where similar laws have gone into effect, estimates the number of cases against the Rochester Diocese will likely be between 250 and 300.

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