Diocese of Buffalo Declares Bankruptcy, SNAP Responds
One of New York’s most-sued Catholic dioceses is choosing to declare bankruptcy. This is a move designed less to protect assets and more to protect secrets and prevent the public from getting the full truth about the scope of clergy abuse within its borders.
The bankruptcy of the Diocese of Buffalo was inevitable due to the amount of lawsuits filed against it and given the Church’s history of choosing to suppress its files and keep things hidden. Bankruptcy freezes the discovery of plaintiffs suing it, and in so doing, limits the damage of testimony under oath and the obligation of defendants to honestly answer written questions called "interrogatories." In short, by declaring bankruptcy, church officials in Buffalo can refuse to take responsibility for abuse and cover-ups that occurred within under their watch.
The only true winners in this situation will be the Buffalo diocese and its enabling bishops. We will never know the true extent of the secrecy that was kept. Whether it is Bishop Donald Trautman's fast tracking of an annulment, Bishop Richard Malone's obvious, egregious flaunting of his moral duty to report abusers and remove them from ministry, there are countless examples of secrecy that are being identified and alleged in legal filings under New York’s Child Victim's Act. Those secrets should come out and the men who allowed abuse to continue should be held responsible. Without full knowledge of what went wrong in these cases, we cannot hope to prevent them again in the future. Unfortunately, this move to bankruptcy robs Buffalo-area parishioners and the public from getting these needed answers.
This move will protect former Bishop Malone and prevent him from being forced to testify under oath. Bishop Malone’s wanton disregard for the safety of children and vulnerable adults in Buffalo has been well-documented: this is a man who was turned in by a whistle blower for intentionally misleading the public about abusers in Buffalo. He kept credibly accused priests in ministry and on the payroll in order to protect their reputations. Bishop Malone also worked under Bernard Law during the Boston Spotlight crisis and as the Bishop of Portland, Maine, another diocese that has yet to publicly reveal a list of abusers. Wherever he was, abuse flourished. His testimony under oath would have helped society understand the full extent of abuse, both in Buffalo and in those other areas, as leaders like he are central to cover up. Because he works directly for the Pope, understanding Malone's actions and whatever network of enablers he cultivated at each place he worked would help law enforcement better understand the Vatican's direct role in enabling and covering-up cases of sexual violence.
And then there is the money. Time and again, bishops move money in order to keep it. For example, in Milwaukee, then-Bishop Dolan transferred more than $50 million to a cemetery fund in order to keep the assets hidden. Or, when the Archdiocese of St. Paul – Minneapolis went into bankruptcy, church officials there fought to use especially low valuations on church property. The Diocese of San Diego even left property under the names of its donors in an attempt to keep it away from the bankruptcy court. It took activists and private investigators to find that property and force it to be considered. An Oakland activist undertook a privately funded appraisal of property in that diocese and found a debt-free diocese with nearly $2 billion in assets. Indeed, the year after funding $56 million in settlements, the church built a $200 million cathedral without declaring bankruptcy. Based on history, it is clear that church officials use bankruptcy court not because of indigence, but out of fear.
We call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to intervene in each of these New York Catholic church bankruptcies in any way that he can. We also call on A.G. Letitia James to use the powers of her office, including subpoena power, to get to the answers and secrets that church officials are trying to keep secret by moving to bankruptcy court. It is through secular officials like these that the public will learn the truth, so we hope that they will intervene and investigate as soon as possible.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)