Monday, January 19, 2015

Twin Cities Archdiocese Files Bankruptcy to Freeze Abuse Lawsuits

In what has become a common pattern for Catholic dioceses around the country, the  St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese has filed bankruptcy to limit likely pay outs to victims of sexual abuse by priests.  In today's Catholic Church - actually, the Church throughout most of its history - money and protecting Church assets is far more important than justice and accountability, especially accountability on the part of high clergy who aided and abetted predatory priests.  The National Catholic Reporter looks at the latest bankruptcy filing.  Note the disingenuous claim that this step would be "fair" to victims of abuse.  Here are highlights:
The St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese filed for bankruptcy Friday morning in response to pending lawsuits related to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The Associated Press first reported the development, long expected in a region gripped for more than a year by a sexual abuse scandal that has seen trust deteriorate in the local church. It is the 12th U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy. 

The filing of Chapter 11 reorganization came in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the District of Minnesota. The archdiocese pointedly stated its current situation is “because of the scourge of sexual abuse of minors.”

The archdiocese described bankruptcy as “the fairest way” to resolve existing and future claims of sexual abuse while at the same time continuing its ministries within the local church.

In its court filing, the archdiocese estimated assets between $10 million and $50 million, and liabilities between $50 million and $100 million. It listed its number of creditors between 200 and 1,000, with clients of attorney Jeff Anderson representing 17 of the 28 largest claimants.

In November, the archdiocese released its 2014 fiscal year financial statements that showed a $9 million deficit in operating activities, net assets down $8.9 million and total cash dropping 60 percent, from $9.5 million to $3.8 million.

At a press conference Friday, Anderson said his firm has been working for months to determine the fairest way to compensate victims. Past bankruptcies have seen average payouts from $42,000 (Helena, Mont.), to $750,000 (Wilmington, Del.), to $1.4 million (San Diego), the lawyer said, though it's uncommon for claimants to receive equal shares and numerous variables determine how much is paid and to whom.

Bankruptcy will put on hold cases filed against the archdiocese, including three set for trial Jan. 26. Two involve Anderson, whose firm has filed 16 total claims, in addition to another 112 notices of claims on behalf of alleged abuse victims.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who in July awarded Anderson an inaugural Pioneer Award, put forth a different view, that bankruptcy allows the archdiocese to change the subject from who was responsible for clergy sexual abuse to how will funds be divided. 

"Chapter 11 enables a bishop to protect what he cares about most: his own reputation, comfort and secrets. It stops depositions, discovery and clergy sex abuse and cover up trials. It's a smart but selfish legal maneuver that will effectively prevent Catholics from getting key information and victims from getting real justice," said Barbara Dorris, SNAP outreach director, in a statement. 

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