The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed for bankruptcy Thursday after more than 200 lawsuits were filed alleging Catholic priests on Long Island sexually abused victims over the years.
Attorneys for the victims blasted church leaders for the move, which the critics characterized as a legal delay tactic, while church leaders maintained that the filing was necessary as litigation costs pile up. Church operations are expected to continue as normal during the proceedings.
“With the passage of the Child Victims Act, the failure of the diocese’s insurers to honor their contractual obligations and the number of suits filed to date, it has become clear the diocese would not able to continue its spiritual, charitable, and educational missions while shouldering the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases,” Bishop John O. Barres said in a video posted on the diocese’s website.
Roman Catholic Diocese across New York State have also filed for bankruptcy, including those in Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse, after the Child Victim’s Act went into effect last year, allowing survivors’ attorneys a window to seek justice for decades-old allegations of abuse that were previously time barred under the statute of limitations. The Diocese of Rockville Centre, which has more than 1 million baptized Catholics on LI, previously filed a motion to try to overturn the Child Victims Act.
“Like their recent attacks on the Child Victims Act and their efforts to intimidate survivors from coming forward, we see the diocese’s decision to declare bankruptcy as strategic, cowardly and wholly self-serving,” said attorney Jeff Anderson of the Manhattan-based law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates, which has filed more than 70 lawsuits against the diocese on behalf of victims.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys said the bankruptcy filing can limit survivors’ ability to unearth names of accused priests, expose leaders who engaged in coverups, and, as part of the Chapter 11 process, the bankruptcy court will set a claims bar date, which will be the deadline for sexual abuse survivors to file a claim in bankruptcy court or risk losing their legal rights. But it also opens up another legal avenue for victims.
“Survivors have the chance to come forward and take part in the coming bankruptcy proceedings,” said Michael T. Pfau, a sexual abuse attorney at the Seattle-based law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala (PCVA), which has represented thousands of abuse survivors. “Now is the time to seek legal counsel and hold the diocese accountable.”