Liabilities arising in connection with New York’s Child Victims Act led the Catholic Diocese of Rochester to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, marking the first diocese in the state to file for bankruptcy after the act became law in August.
At a press conference Thursday, Bishop Salvatore Matano said the filing for bankruptcy and reorganization was a difficult decision, but the best solution for the diocese. In the filing, the diocese claims to have between 200 and 299 creditors and estimates its assets to be between $50 million to $100 million, with liabilities in excess of $100 million.
“They can review our resources and would come to the conclusion that we could not minister to every victim who comes forward and help them out if we did not go this route,” he said. “We do sincerely consider this to be the best course of action for the victims and to be able to serve the greater number of victims, and again, to not prolong the suffering they have already endured.”
The bankruptcy follows a significant number of claims against the diocese stemming from the Child Victims Act, which lifted the statute of limitations allowing victims of child sex abuse to pursue claims against the church.
“We could not minister to every victim that comes forward and help them out if we did not go this route,” Matano said. “We do sincerely consider this to be the best course of action for the victims.”
Going forward, Bishop Matano said the bankruptcy will not affect individual parishes under the diocese as churches are separately incorporated under New York state law. He assured that parishes in the diocese will continue to operate normally.
However, critics of the filing argue the bankruptcy as a legal tactic to protect assets.
Steve Boyd, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates, called the decision “very disturbing and disappointing.”
“Bishop Salvatore Matano’s choice is simply a legal tactic to protect assets and prevent jury trials, and an attempt to prevent the truth from being revealed,” Boyd said. “We want to assure the survivors and their family members who have been harmed for so long and have brought claims under the Child Victims Act to know that this is not the end.
In a separate statement, attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who also represents victims in Rochester, said the filing “will not prevent victims from pursuing their rights through the bankruptcy proceeding against the Diocese of Rochester to obtain information about sexual abusers and their complicit supervisors, against relevant parish corporate entities who have not filed for bankruptcy protection and from obtaining information about assets and insurance coverage.”
Bishop Matano addressed these concerns Thursday and said the decision to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy was based on the demands stemming from the CVA. He said the bankruptcy filing will not prolong any suffering from victims and prevent lengthy trials and costly jury verdicts.
“I don’t see this in any way as a tactic,” he said.
Bishop Matano said he sincerely considers this the best course of action.
“It’s very easy to have faith in the best of times,” Matano said. “It’s difficult to have faith in times as challenging as these.”