NEW YORK - A Roman Catholic diocese in New York City's suburbs has become the largest in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy to protect itself from a wave of lawsuits filed over past sexual abuse by clergy members.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday. It is the eighth largest diocese or archdiocese in the U.S., serving more than 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island.
“The financial burden of the litigation has been severe and only compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bishop John Barres, the spiritual leader of the diocese that serves 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island, said in a video posted on the diocese's website. “Our goal is to make sure that all clergy sexual abuse survivors and not just a few who were first to file lawsuits are afforded just and equitable compensation.”
Barres said more than 200 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy members have been filed against the diocese since the 2019 passage of New York's Child Victims Act, which suspended the statute of limitations to allow sex abuse victims to pursue decades-old allegations of abuse against clergy members, teachers and other adults.
“What became clear was that the diocese was not going to be able to carry out its spiritual, charitable and educational missions if it were to continue to shoulder the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases,” Barres said.
The diocese started an independent compensation program in 2017 to provide settlements for victims of past sexual abuse and has so far paid more than $62 million to about 350 survivors under the program, officials said. Settlements may be higher for some accusers who did not participate in the program but chose instead to file lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.
The Rockville Centre diocese is the latest of more than 20 Catholic dioceses in the nation to file for bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits over sexual abuse.
Barres said most of the diocese's operations would continue despite the bankruptcy filing. He said employees and vendors would be paid.
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