The Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York declared bankruptcy yesterday, making it the largest Catholic diocese so far to go under.
The decision was made before additional lawsuits relating to child sex abuse hit them in the pocketbooks even more than they already have.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday. It is the eighth largest diocese or archdiocese in the U.S., serving more than 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island.
“The financial burden of the litigation has been severe and only compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bishop John Barres, the spiritual leader of the diocese that serves 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island, said in a video posted on the diocese’s website. “Our goal is to make sure that all clergy sexual abuse survivors and not just a few who were first to file lawsuits are afforded just and equitable compensation.”
Thoughts and prayers.
The diocese has already paid out more than $62 million to approximately 350 sex abuse survivors since 2017 thanks to a New York law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on those crimes. That window to bring forth a lawsuit was extended in August — to mid-January — to allow more victims to seek justice due to pandemic-related disruption, prompting this latest decision by the Catholic Church. They still face more than 200 claims of abuse.
The bankruptcy effective shields the church from a harsher punishment.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents alleged abuse victims in 73 of those cases, said the move would deny a jury trial to victims and limit their ability to unearth private documents through discovery.
In some cases, plaintiffs could receive smaller financial settlements than they might have been awarded in a civil trial, Mr. Anderson said.
To be clear, Catholic schools and churches themselves will still exist after this. It’s the administrative side that will get hit. That’s a silver lining. The people who have come to rely on the Church won’t be punished because of the leadership’s actions (or inactions, as it were). The bankruptcy court will now figure out what assets the Church has (and can sell off), then decide who gets priority in terms of getting paid. Abuse victims will likely be at the top of that list.
As I’ve said before, nothing of value will be lost in this financial declaration. Whatever good these churches do is clearly outweighed by the trauma their priests inflicted upon dozens of children over the course of decades. Them going bankrupt is relatively harmless against that backdrop.
May many other dioceses follow in their footsteps.
(Featured image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)