The Diocese of Buffalo announced on Friday that it is declaring bankruptcy as hundreds of abuse lawsuits have been filed against it in the last several months.
The diocese said it was formally filing for Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy code to provide the most compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse while continuing the day-to-day work of its Catholic mission.
“Our decision to pursue Chapter 11 reorganization – arrived at after much prayer, discernment and consultation with the College of Consultors and our Diocesan Finance Council – is based on our belief that this approach will enable the most number of victim-survivors of past sexual abuse in achieving fairness and a sense of restorative justice for the harm they have experienced,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, the diocese’s apostolic administrator, said on Friday.
“It will also allow the vital, mission-driven work of faith that is so essential to the residents of Western New York to continue uninterrupted,” Scharfenberger said.
The announcement follows a year in which allegations of a cover-up of clergy sex abuse were made against the diocese. Following the opening of a window in the state statute of limitation last summer, hundreds of abuse lawsuits filed against the diocese in New York courts. Bishop Joseph Malone, who led the diocese from 2012 until last year, resigned in December, following a Vatican-ordered investigation of the diocese by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
Not included in the bankruptcy filing are diocesan parishes and parochial elementary and secondary schools, as well as Catholic Charities of Buffalo, the diocese said, since these are separate legal entities.
One whistleblower in the diocese said the filing is not enough for clergy abuse victims, who want more than just financial compensation.
After the diocese in 2018 released a list of 42 priests accused of “criminal, abusive or inappropriate behavior,” Bishop Malone’s former executive assistant Siobahn O’Connor published documents apparently showing the number of accused priests was actually more than 100.
Speaking to CNA on Friday, O’Conner said “For me, this is a bankruptcy failing.”
“This is yet another way in which the Diocese of Buffalo has failed survivors. For decades, survivors have been silenced while abusive priests were shuffled as statutes of limitation ran out. Survivors were denied the chance for criminal prosecution and the justice that process would have allowed,” O’Conner said.
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