Diocese of Camden Submits Plan of Reorganization, Survivors Left in the Cold
In the closing hours of 2020, the Diocese of Camden made an outrageous strategic move to protect itself from scrutiny. On New Year’s Eve, Bishop Dennis Sullivan submitted a Plan of Reorganization that prioritizes the protection of the Diocese against scandal over accountability and compensation owed to those harmed by sexually abusive clergy. The plan sets a new low for the Diocese’s self-interest, doubling down on the callousness and contempt for survivors.
This plan will allow the Diocese of Camden to move at an extremely fast pace through their bankruptcy proceedings by setting a “bar date” of March 2021. To us, the fact that the Diocese was allowed to declare bankruptcy in the first place is absurd, and this incredibly swift process to limit claims and protect finances will only harm survivors at the expense of a wealthy institution.
To the best of our knowledge, victims of clergy abuse were not consulted or engaged in the development of this plan and it does not represent the point of view or best interests of survivors. On the contrary, the plan seeks to limit victims’ options provided under the recent reforms which expanded rights for those sexually abused, including the right to bring a civil case against institutions like the Diocese of Camden by November 30, 2021.
The plan seeks to set up a $10M trust—a maximum amount to be paid to survivors and not to be exceeded—to be administered by an individual of the Bishop’s choosing at a rate of $1M/year for the next ten years. The Camden Diocese continues to have many revenue streams, so it is difficult to take their claims of poverty seriously. Just one such campaign, “Catholic Strong,” raised more than 40 million dollars this past year and will run through 2024, with a minimum goal of raising 50 million.
In short, the bankruptcy plan seeks to limit survivors’ opportunities to expose perpetrators of child sexual abuse who have long been hidden by Catholic officials by limiting discovery and due process.
According to Bishop Sullivan when he announced the 2019 Independent Victims Compensation Fund, “the program promised by me and my fellow NJ Bishops…is an opportunity for victims who have long carried the burden of victimization, to find tangible support and recognition of the pain caused by these sinful priests.” That program ended on December 31st 2019. But now that victims have come forward to once again tell their incredibly painful histories of abuse, it appears Camden officials have turned their backs on survivors and caused more harm and mistrust.
Last year, the Camden Diocese’s annual Bishop’s appeals theme was “Who is my neighbor.” Bishop Sullivan declared the money raised was to provide “care, respect, justice, peace and dignity for every soul in the Camden Diocese.” Yet those who received a lifelong injury from the actions of sinful clerics do not seem to be included when answering the question “who is my neighbor.”
There is no doubt that the Diocese of Camden is bankrupt, but to us it is a moral bankruptcy, not a financial one.
(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)