Will bankruptcy keep the diocese from keeping its promise to heal? | Opinion

By Mark Crawford

Bishop Sullivan of the Camden Diocese recently announced the intent to file chapter 11 bankruptcy protections citing a decline in church revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the filing of lawsuits by clergy abuse victims who were finally granted access to our courts when New Jersey revised its statute of limitations for the sexual victimization of children and adults last year. The new law opened a two-year window allowing any victim of sexual abuse to pursue a claim regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred or how old the victim is today.

In September of 2018, the New Jersey Attorney General launched a statewide investigation of the five Catholic dioceses regarding the handling of clerics who abused children. That office launched a hotline (855-363-6548) for victims to report allegations of sexual abuse by New Jersey clerics. Our bishops, facing a statewide investigation and the new statute of limitations, offered victims a way to minimize legal actions by offering an Independent Victims Compensation Plan (IVCP) to victims. Victims' claims could be settled within months instead of years, if victims commit never to seek legal action against the diocese, any catholic entity for any actions or omissions past, present or in the future, known or unknown.

Victims, who perhaps wanted to avoid a protracted legal battle and answered the bishops call to come forward and tell their painful stories of sexual abuse, are now betrayed yet again as the Camden bishop seeks court protection from all claims. Such action immediately stops all civil actions, stops the court ordered production of documents and limits the time victims have to come forward. They are hoping the courts will help them reduce their financial liabilities to victims by lumping those demands with all other creditors.

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