Diocese of Rochester Files for Bankruptcy to Avoid Responsibility for Cases of Clergy Abuse

A diocese in New York is filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid the repercussions of years of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up that are now being litigated thanks to the Child Victims Act. We believe this move by church officials is not about protecting church assets, but rather about protecting their secrets.

The Diocese of Rochester is the latest diocese to file for bankruptcy as civil cases mount. So far, 59 cases have been filed against the diocese. In the past, bankruptcy filings have been used to deny survivors their day in civil court, ensure church documents are kept internal, and prevent parishioners and the public from learning details about cases of abuse and cover-up. 

Given the way that bankruptcies have been handled by other dioceses, we expect the Diocese of Rochester will mirror the steps taken in places like Milwaukee, where then-Bishop Dolan transferred more than $50 million to a cemetery fund in order to keep the assets hidden, or in St. Paul – Minneapolis, where church officials fought to use especially low valuations on their property.

Another reason that bankruptcy court can prove to be a good move for the church but bad for survivors is that the settlements provided through bankruptcy court typically allow the institution to keep disclosures of abuse in house. Without having to report these allegations to the police or otherwise making them public, a full accounting of the number of abusers and who may have concealed or ignored those crimes can stay hidden.

Now that the Diocese of Rochester has filed for bankruptcy, we fear that other New York dioceses will follow suit. We hope that New York Attorney General Letitia James is watching these moves closely and will use the power of her office to ensure that information related to clergy abuse and cover-ups will be disclosed despite the bankruptcy process. We also urge New York survivors to continue their fight for their day in civil court, not bankruptcy court. 

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) 

(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

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