The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has filed for bankruptcy, leaving hundreds of lawsuits that involve claims of child sexual abuse in limbo. But a woman who filed one of the hundreds of Child Victims Act suits against the diocese in 2019 said she and others are not going anywhere, and the diocese cannot hide behind bankruptcy.
Colleen Garbarini, who came forward publicly last April, said Thursday that she isn’t necessarily surprised by the diocese’s action, but is upset.
“There seems to be some indication possibly that the survivors are to blame for the place that the diocese finds themselves now financially,” Garbarini said. “And that makes me furious.”
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said Wednesday the Chapter 11 filing stops legal actions against the diocese so that it may "develop a reorganization plan that will determine the available assets, along with the participation of its insurance carriers, that can be used to negotiate reasonable settlements with Victim/Survivors in addition to other creditors."
The bishop said the diocese had depleted its insurance funds that have gone to pay settlements in Child Victims Act cases, and claimed that Chapter 11 filing was "the best way" to ensure compensation for victims in those cases. The diocese’s financial situation is so dire that it was unlikely to make payroll this month, Scharfenberger told reporters.
"The decision to file was not arrived at easily and I know it may cause pain and suffering, but we, as a Church, can get through this and grow stronger together," he said.
The bankruptcy essentially pauses all litigation, including the diocese’s battle with pensioners from the former St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady. The pensioners filed a lawsuit against the Albany Diocese in 2019.
The diocese indicated Wednesday that lawsuits from former hospital employees living without their pensions are now "on hold," but "that was not the Diocese's purpose for filing."
That didn’t go over well with St. Clare’s Pensioners Committee Chair Mary Hartshorne.
“To know that it comes from the church that we followed all the principals of all these years, this is a horror story that just got a chapter we didn’t want,” Hartshorne said Thursday.
Hundreds of cases were filed against the Albany Diocese alleging sexual abuse under the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations, allowing people to file civil suits against their alleged abusers.
The bishop said the diocese has settled more than 50 of the 400-plus cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups that span decades, but there are no more resources to settle others.
With legal proceedings now paused, Scharfenberger said he believed a plan to reorganize will help determine how it can move forward in settling remaining cases.
“In order to maintain our mission, we’re at a point right now where the next step seems to be to do this. We don’t see any other alternative,” Scharfenberger said. “Unfortunately, we know it’s expensive, we know it can be time consuming, but it seems to be the best way to protect everyone.”
Albany Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard testified in 2021 that the diocese concealed reports of child sex abuse for decades and failed to report the abuse to police, according to transcripts of a deposition released last March. A judge ordered the deposition released.
The transcript details instances in which Hubbard covered up allegations of priests sexually abusing minors during his 37-year tenure, which ended in 2014. Ten of those accused Hubbard of sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s, with the most recent coming in 2012. Hubbard has maintained his innocence.
An attorney representing a number of people with claims against the diocese said he was not surprised by the announcement, and called it another tactic to delay justice and wear down victims.
Attorney Jeff Anderson claimed the diocese has access to more than $600 million in assets right now, consisting mainly of real estate. Anderson said the information was gathered during months of legal proceedings. The bishop disputed the $600 million figure, saying that anyone could come up with that number in an online search.
“It is a scam, it is a sham and is a part of the same playbook Catholic bishops in the state of New York and across this country are playing and trying to use through Chapter 11,” Anderson said.
State Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Republican, released a statement Wednesday on the bankruptcy filing in defense of more than 1,000 ex-St. Clare’s Hospital workers, calling the situation shameful.
“Those of us who have stood up for and fought for justice alongside these outstanding health care providers are not going away and I know neither are they,” Tedisco said. “We will continue to pursue the justice they deserve in every possible way.”