Diocese of Rockville Centre files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid clergy abuse lawsuits

St. Agnes Cathedral
A inside view of an empty St. Agnes Cathedral on Easter Sunday on April 12, 2020 in Rockville Center, New York. Photo credit Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — The Diocese of Rockville Centre is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to help manage legal expenses and facilitate settlements with sex abuse survivors who brought lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.

Bishop John Barres said more than 200 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse have been filed against the diocese and Chapter 11 bankruptcy "offers the only way to ensure a fair and equitable outcome for everyone involved."

“This decision was not made lightly, but, 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," Barres said in a statement.

Barres said the "financial burden" of the litigation has been severe and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the diocese, approximately 40 percent of its annual revenue comes from offertory collections, which have dropped with attendance at Sunday Mass.

Attorneys for the victims said the diocese is treating the victims like creditors.

Professor Marci Hamilton of Child USA said victims of child sex abuse within the Catholic church are not happy with the filing.

"What Rockville Centre is doing is basically trying to protect all of its assets so that the survivors will get as little compensation as possible," she said. "The tragedy of federal bankruptcy and child sex abuse is that it shifts all of the attention to the estate, it's now all about Rockville Centre. The victims become creditors, it's really unfair."

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian fears this could have long-lasting effects for the men and women.

"The pain doesn't go away. There are triggers, for instance the filing of the bankruptcy will trigger a lot of victims to feel more pain. The victims will feel cheated, but they have to understand through the bankruptcy court we will litigate," said Garabedian, who represents 24 victims.

The filing is not expected to have a direct impact on parishes and Catholic schools in the area becaues they are separate legal entities and will continue to operate normally.

The diocese said employees will be paid their normal wages, and their benefit programs will continue uninterrupted.

It is the largest diocese in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy amid the clergy abuse scandal.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images