For immediate release on September 22, 2023
In the wake of the passage of Maryland's Child Victims Act (CVA), which will go into effect on October 1, 2023, Archbishop William E. Lori is already saying that his Archdiocese may need to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
. Considering that no lawsuits have been filed, we find it extremely troubling that the Archbishop is prematurely suggesting this legal maneuver. We believe that Catholic entities invoke the federal bankruptcy laws primarily to hide information, as well as to short-change for those who have suffered life-long damages because of unconscionable decisions to keep dangerous men in positions of authority. The bankruptcy tactic may benefit the Archdiocese, but it is disingenuous for the Archbishop to imply that he is doing this to be fair to survivors.
What has been lacking in Baltimore, as in other Catholic dioceses, is accountability and transparency. Even the extensive report published by the Maryland Attorney General's Office contained redacted names of perpetrators and those who covered up abuse. Although all were ultimately revealed by the media
, we think it is important to note that the Archdiocese itself refused to reveal those names.
If Baltimore files for bankruptcy, those who brought lawsuits will become creditors, and the bankruptcy court will set a date by which any other claims must be filed. However, the bankruptcy court is unlikely to demand that the identities of any new abusers named in civil actions or in bankruptcy claims be publicized, and we know that we cannot count on the Archdiocese to take this step. Once again, there will be no truth or transparency.
In addition, those who were abused before the date of the bankruptcy filing and do not come forward before the bar date, even children, will likely have no means of exposing their perpetrators, or those who protected the abuser. The average age for an abuse survivor to report is 52
. Delayed disclosure is the rule, not the exception. Again, information that is vital for the protection of future children may never reach the public. We know that we cannot count on the Archdiocese to be open and transparent.
While some survivors truly need restitution to pay for therapy, or to compensate for the educational and employment opportunities derailed by their injuries, most will tell you that what they want most is for this not to happen to other boys and girls. To that end, they want information about how their perpetrator ended up in their parish. They want to know when the Church learned about their abuser, who knew this, what, in anything, was done with that information, and where those decision-makers are now. The bankruptcy court is only concerned with how to divide the monetary pie among the claimants. Important information will remain concealed, and we know that the Archdiocese cannot be counted on to come clean. Openness and transparency is again the loser.
Unlike most civil windows, the Maryland CVA is not finite. There may be a spate of lawsuits when the window opens, filed by people who have been waiting for this opportunity. But it is also true that survivors who are not yet ready to come forward have the luxury of waiting, knowing that they will not lose their opportunity. A bankruptcy will change that, forcing victims who have not filed actions to register their claim or be permanently barred from receiving compensation for their injuries.
Moreover, in the Maryland Child Victims Act, non-economic damages awarded to a single claimant are capped at $1.5 million. That cap should be a great comfort to the Archdiocese. Even if 500 victims come forward when the window opens, Baltimore would likely owe at most $750 million, but probably less.
We strongly suspect that the Archdiocese could justly compensate victims without resorting to bankruptcy. In the spirit of openness and transparency, we have four suggestions for steps that should be undertaken by Baltimore and made public before any bankruptcy filing.
- A open and transparent list of all of those in the Archdiocese who have been accused of abuse, whether alive or dead, whether Archdiocesan, religious order, or extern, whether clergy or laity. For those that are alive, their current whereabouts should also be provided, as well as an assessment of any risk to today's children;
- An open and transparent list of those who enabled abusers, including where they are now and if they are still in decision-making positions within the Church;
- A pledge to continue updating these two lists as more accusations come to light;
- An honest inventory of all property and other assets, with current market values;
- An explanation of all current sources of income, including donations from the pews;
- Detailed expense statements; and
- A realistic evaluation of what it would take to settle all the civil actions, based on the $1.5 million dollar cap.
With these seven pieces of information, the community of survivors and faithful Catholics can more accurately assess the Archdiocese's solvency, evaluate current dangers to children, and provide a way forward that does not repeat the cover-ups of the past.
We have seen from coast to coast in other bankruptcies that bishops try to shelter assets in other corporate entities, including parishes, educational institutions, and other ministries
. However, we have always believed that these arbitrary divisions are pure fiction. Bishops are absolute monarchs, and if they decide to use those assets to pay off diocesan debts, there is little, if anything, that can be done by the faithful to stop them. The Archdiocese of New Orleans recently exposed this corporate shell game for what it is.
No matter what happens with the Archdiocese of Baltimore's plan to declare bankruptcy, survivors and the faithful should all work together to ensure that the restructured Archdiocese will be a safer place for today's Catholic boys and girls than it was for children in the past. That cannot be achieved without openness and transparency about what historically went wrong.
CONTACT: David Lorenz, SNAP Maryland Leader ([email protected], 301-906-9161), Becky Ianni, SNAP DC Leader ([email protected], 703-801-6044), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP
Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267- 261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)