Catholic Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy, looks to settle almost 250 child sex abuse lawsuits

The Diocese of Buffalo has $100 million in liabilities and almost 250 lawsuits.

February 28, 2020, 12:40 PM

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo declared bankruptcy as it looks to settle over 250 lawsuits filed under the state's modified Child Victims Act law

"We have no more urgent work than to bring about justice and healing for those harmed by the scourge of sexual abuse," said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, in a statement. "The intense emotional, mental and spiritual pain inflicted on these innocent victim-survivors is a heavy burden they are forced to carry throughout their lives."

New York passed a law in August 2019 that modified the statute of limitations and created a one-year window for child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits. That resulted in the Diocese of Buffalo facing nearly 250 lawsuits and counting.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger speaks to members of the media following the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone, during a press conference at the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Dec. 4, 2019 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Aaron Lynett/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

"The Diocese anticipates that in excess of 400 individuals may assert abuse claims for which they may seek to hold the Diocese responsible," said Charles Mendolera, the diocese’s executive director of financial administration in the Chapter 11 petition. [page 5 paragraph 9]

"The bankruptcy filing by the Diocese of Buffalo was caused by pedophile priests and their permissive supervisors. As a result, clergy sexual abuse victims and parishioners are suffering,' said Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represents almost 40 alleged victims of the priests within the Diocese of Buffalo. "It is time for the Diocese of Buffalo to face the economic, moral and practical consequences of allowing criminality to exist unchecked for decades."

The Diocese of Buffalo listed revenue of about $13 million, but liabilities of up to $100 million, according to the bankruptcy filing. Other than its bank, the biggest creditors are law firms that represent alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.

"The Diocese does not seek Chapter 11 relief to shirk or avoid responsibility for any past misconduct by clergy or for any decisions made by Diocesan authorities when addressing that misconduct,” the filing said. [page 5 paragraph 10]

A man enters the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, on Dec. 4, 2019 on Main Street in Buffalo, N.Y.
Aaron Lynett/AFP via Getty Images

Not included in the bankruptcy filing are the Parishes of the Diocese, Catholic elementary and secondary schools, Catholic Charities of Buffalo and the Diocese's capital and endowment campaign -- Upon This Rock.

“The Diocese has commenced this Chapter 11 Case in order to (a) provide an orderly claims administration process that will ensure a more equitable distribution of funds to creditors, including victims of abuse; and (b) bring about a reorganization of the Diocese that will ensure that the mission of the Diocese may continue to be fulfilled in service of the Catholic faith.” [page 6 paragraph 11]

There isn't a time frame as to when the bankruptcy proceedings will conclude but the Dioceses says they "hope to conclude this process at the earliest possible opportunity."

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