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The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a move a lawyer representing dozens of child sexual abuse survivors says is an attempt “to evade accountability.”
The filing comes as a new law is set to take effect in Maryland October 1, lifting the statute of limitations to allow new civil lawsuits over older acts of child sexual abuse.
In April, the Maryland Attorney General released a report alleging 156 Catholic clergy members and others abused at least 600 children over the course of more than six decades.
Because of the new law, “the Archdiocese of Baltimore faces a great number of lawsuits of historic cases of child sexual abuse previously barred by Maryland law,” Archbishop William E. Lori said in a statement Friday.
“After consulting with numerous lay leaders and the clergy of the Archdiocese, I have made the decision I believe will best allow the Archdiocese both to equitably compensate victim-survivors of child sexual abuse and ensure the local Church can continue its mission and ministries,” Lori said.
“If a plan is approved by the bankruptcy court, no future claims for past cases of abuse can be brought against the Church,” he added.
Philip C. Federico, a lawyer representing survivors who planned to file claims against the Archdiocese, told CNN in a statement the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s filing for bankruptcy “is extremely premature and is nothing more than an effort to protect itself while denying survivors justice.”
“By filing for bankruptcy today, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is perpetuating the Church’s pattern of trying to evade accountability for the heinous sexual assault of children under its care,” Federico added.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined CNN’s request for comment.
Filing for bankruptcy harms victims, lawyers say
Robert K. Jenner, another lawyer representing victims, said the bankruptcy filing is an effort to avoid “acknowledging its historical legacy of enabling systemic child sexual abuse and then engaging in deceitful cover-up.”
“It is outrageous, but not unexpected, that the morally bankrupt Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy protection to shield its assets,” Jenner told CNN in a statement.
Jenner says they are “undeterred by this development and continue to fight for justice, transparency, and accountability.”
Archbishop Lori said in his statement the legal fees “and large settlements or jury awards for a few victim-survivors” risk depleting the church’s financial resources, which could end ministries Maryland families rely on.
However, Federico said the statement is premature, explaining it is too early to know what type of financial liability the church may face since no cases have been filed.
“It is very unlikely that any damages awarded out of these cases would exceed the Church’s assets,” Federico added.
In April, the Archdiocese’s office said it had paid $13.2 million to 303 victims of abuse since the 1980s.
“I acknowledge that no apology, compensation, or knowledge of our present-day accountability measures will necessarily lead to healing for victim survivors, nor repair the harm they suffered,” Lori said.
The financial reorganization is expected to take two to three years, according to Lori. The bankruptcy court will accept claims from victim-survivors for a period of time before entering negotiations to provide compensation.
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