The petition comes amid a flood of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act naming the diocese as a defendant. There are approximately 360,000 Catholics in the 12-county diocese.
ROCHESTER — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester has become the first in New York state to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Citing an onslaught of civil lawsuits filed against it under the recently passed Child Victims Act, the diocese filed its petition Thursday in federal court in Rochester.
Attorneys Steve Boyd and Jeff Anderson, who represent several victims who are suing the diocese over alleged child secual abuse, said this bankruptcy filing is nothing more than an attempt by the diocese to continue to silence their victims and cut them off at the knees.
The attorneys also said the diocese has insurance and the ability to pay their victims through their insurance policy, and they should be tapping into that insurance, not tapping out.
On Thursday afternoon, Bishop Salvatore Matano said re-organization is the best option for both the victims and the diocese.
Boyd and Anderson aren't buying that, and they want the diocese to reveal and make public exactly how much insurance the diocese has.
Carol Dupre, 72, says she was sexually abused by a priest when she was just 14 or 15 years old. She said she's not surprised the diocese filed for bankruptcy.
Dupre's attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, said this "will not prevent victims from pursuing their rights through the bankruptcy proceeding against the Diocese of Rochester."
Dupre said most of all, she wants affirmation.
"I know that some people want an apology, and I think affirmation kind of holds hands with an apology," she said. "Like I'm sorry this happened to you and I'm sorry we didn't do anything for you at the time."
"This is not going to stop us and the survivors from revealing the truth the history that is in some way known to us and the survivors and excavating that and revealing that," Anderson said.
In his 30 years representing victims of the Catholic Diocese, Anderson said he encountered 18 different entities that filed for bankruptcy, just like the Catholic Diocese of Rochester did Thursday. He said in the end, it stalled them, but never stopped them from seeking justice and the latest move by the Diocese of Rochester is no different.
The diocese's petition lists its estimated number of creditors at 200 to 999, its estimated assets at $50 million to $100 million, and its estimated liabilities at $100 million to $500 million.
The financial uncertainty for a diocese that serves 360,000 Catholics in a 12-county region — including Monroe, Ontario, Wayne, Yates, Seneca and Livingston counties — raises a lot of questions for parishioners.
"Now all the cards on the table, everybody can see what's going on," said Hon. John Ninfo, a former federal bankruptcy court judge.
Ninfo says a Chapter 11 bankruptcy essentially puts everything on hold for the diocese while it opens up the books to try to determine, with the help of the court, the best way to meet all of its obligations.
"People shouldn't think they're trying to escape from liability, or they're trying to pull some fast thing because the bankruptcy courts are uniquely qualified to do this kind of thing," Ninfo said. "That's what they do every day."
The filing puts a stop, at least for now, to any new civil lawsuits being filed against the diocese. It gives the court time to truly assess how much money and assets the diocese has to run its operation and payout on lawsuits filed against it.
"I don't see this as a bad thing for everybody involved," Ninfo said. "It can be a very positive thing because it'll be orderly, more equitable, more timely and less expensive."
For the time being, it will be business as usual at the 18 Catholic schools the diocese owns and runs. The 86 parishes in the dioceses are each run as individual non-profits, which means they are shielded from any bankruptcy impacts and keep most of the money donated in collection plates.
But some parishes pay rent to the diocese and sometimes have separate collections that go to the Diocese. Catholics with questions about how their donations will be used should address them directly with the pastor at their church.
Organizations like Catholic Charities and Providence House, although partially funded by the dioceses are also separate non-profits, therefore, they should be shielded from liability, according to Ninfo.
Payroll will not be impacted for current employees of the diocese, but former employees who earn a pension from the diocese could be impacted in bankruptcy proceedings. It’s unclear how long the bankruptcy process will take, but in other states where dioceses have filed, it has taken two to four years.
Concern among alleged sex abuse victims and their attorneys about this bankruptcy filing is it could force them to settle as opposed to having their cases heard in open court.
Ninfo says it’s possible the judge hearing this case could allow victims to come into court and have their stories heard, for the record but that, of course, would be well down the road.