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Jonathan Rosenfeld

July 13, 2023

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New legislation on lookback periods and statute limitations across several states have prompted another wave of civil lawsuits against churches for child sexual abuse.

As thousands of clergy sexual abuse cases come to light, more and more dioceses are filing for bankruptcy to manage the cost of settlements.

These new laws allow victims abused as children to file sexual abuse claims as adults against perpetrators and at-fault dioceses.

To date, 28 Catholic dioceses in the US and its territories have filed for bankruptcy to settle lawsuits.

You could be eligible for financial compensation if you or a loved one suffered child sexual abuse by a clergy member.

The compassionate lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, will help you and your family obtain the justice you deserve, regardless of how much time has passed since the abuse.

Contact our sexual abuse lawyers at (888) 424-5757 to learn more about legal options against dioceses.

Catholic Church Bankruptcies

Lookback Windows for Child Sex Abuse

Several states passed lookback windows for child sexual abuse claims, allowing victims to sue their abusers and parties who may have covered up the abuse, regardless of how much time has passed. 

These lookback periods also make it possible for victims whose cases have been time-barred to file claims again. 

Currently, seven states have open revival or lookback windows for child sex abuse cases, including those perpetrated within Catholic dioceses:

  • Arkansas – February 1, 2022, to January 31, 2024 (for victims of private organizations and government)
  • Louisiana – June 10, 2021, to June 14, 2024, for cases against any party
  • Maine – Opened February 14, 2023 (open indefinitely)
  • New York – March 1, 2023, to March 1, 2025 (for victims of gender-motivated assault and sexual abuse)

 You can see which states have ongoing and successful child sex abuse reform laws in Child USA.

States With No Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse

Vermont removed the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in 2019, followed by Maine in 2021.

Maryland passed the Child Victims Act of 2023 to abolish the statute of limitations on such cases after the Attorney General’s report revealed 600 victims of clergy abuse in Baltimore dioceses.

Which Catholic Dioceses Have Filed for Bankruptcy Protection Following Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits?

New legislation on the statute of limitations for child sexual assault has led to the Catholic Church and dioceses facing hundreds of thousands of additional cases.

As of today, 28 Catholic dioceses in the US and its territories have filed for bankruptcy due to clergy sex abuse suits.

Fifteen Catholic dioceses have reached settlement agreements with claimants and paid almost $900 million to 2,600 victims.

Here is a list of Catholic Church bankruptcies as of July 2023:

  • Portland Archdiocese (OR) – July 6, 2004; paid $74 million to 173 claimants
  • Tucson Diocese (AZ) – September 20, 2004; paid $22.2 million to 43 claimants
  • Spokane Diocese (WA) – December 6, 2004; paid $48 million to 150 claimants
  • Davenport Diocese (IA) – October 10, 2006; paid $37 million to 162 claimants
  • San Diego Diocese (CA) – February 27, 2007; paid $198.1 million to 144 claimants
  • Fairbanks Diocese (AK) – March 1, 2008; paid $9.8 million to 290 claimants
  • Wilmington Diocese (DE) – October 18, 2009; paid $77.4 million to 148 claimants
  • Milwaukee Archdiocese (WI) – January 4, 2011; paid $21 million to 350 claimants
  • Gallup Diocese (NM) – November 12, 2013; paid $22 million to 57 claimants
  • Stockton Diocese (CA) – January 15, 2014; paid $15 million to 34 claimants
  • Helena Diocese (MT) – January 31, 2014; paid $21 million to 360 claimants
  • St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdioces (MN) – January 16, 2015; paid $210 million to 450 claimants
  • Duluth Diocese (MN) – December 7, 2015; paid $40 million to 125 claimants
  • New Ulm Diocese (MN) – March 3, 2017; paid $34 million to 93 claimants
  • Great Falls-Billings Diocese (MT) – March 31, 2017; paid $20 million to 86 claimants
  • San Juan Archdiocese (Puerto Rico) – August 30, 2018; pending
  • Winona-Rochester Diocese (MN) – November 30, 2018; paid $21.5 million to 145 claimants
  • Santa Fe Archdiocese (NM) – November 30, 2019; pending
  • Agana Archdiocese (Guam) – January 16, 2019; pending
  • Rochester Diocese (NY) – September 12, 2019; pending
  • Harrisburg Diocese (PA) – February 20, 2020; pending
  • Buffalo Diocese (NY) – February 28, 2020; pending
  • New Orleans Archdiocese (LA) – May 1, 2020; pending
  • St. Cloud Diocese (MN) – June 15, 2020; paid $22.5 million
  • Syracuse Diocese (NY) – June 19, 2020; pending
  • Rockville Centre Diocese (NY) – October 1, 2020; pending
  • Camden Diocese (NJ) – October 1, 2020; pending
  • Norwich Diocese (CT) – July 15, 2021; pending

Dioceses with pending statuses are awaiting settlement agreements with victims.

So far, only 15 dioceses have completed bankruptcy procedures.

These Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy to manage the costs resulting from sex crime settlements.

However, each bankruptcy process is different.

Two Catholic dioceses underwent unique bankruptcy proceedings:

  • Duluth Diocese Bankruptcy: In November 2015, a court deemed the Duluth Diocese liable for 60% of an $8.1 million settlement in a priest sexual abuse lawsuit. The diocese filed for bankruptcy a month after, then announced a $40 million Catholic Church lawsuit settlement three years later. Furthermore, the bankruptcy court required it to publicize the confidential employee files of the accused and develop new procedures to prevent similar incidents.
  • Harrisburg Diocese Bankruptcy: The Harrisburg Diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2020 following a grand jury investigation, which revealed that priests had sexually assaulted minors for decades. In February 2023, the federal bankruptcy court approved a plan for the diocese to establish an $18 million trust for victims.

Archdiocese Bankruptcy Cases

Seven of the 28 Roman Catholic dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy are archdioceses (Catholic dioceses covering large areas and are governed by bishops):

  • Milwaukee 
  • Guam
  • Portland
  • New Orleans
  • Santa Fe
  • San Juan
  • St. Paul and Minneapolis

Catholic Church Bankruptcies: What Religious Orders Have Filed for Bankruptcy?

Apart from Catholic Church bankruptcies, the following religious orders have filed for bankruptcy following sex abuse lawsuits:

  • Oregon Province of the Jesuits Bankruptcy – Filed February 17, 2009; paid $166.1 million to 535 claimants
  • Christian Brothers of Ireland Bankruptcy – Filed April 28, 2011; paid $16.5 million to 400 claimants
  • Crosier Fathers & Brothers Bankruptcy – Filed June 1, 2017; paid $25.5 million to 43 claimants

The Oregon Province of the Jesuits, Christian Brothers of Ireland, and Crosier Fathers & Brothers have collectively paid $200 million to settle lawsuits with roughly 1,000 victims and claimants.

The cases leading to these bankruptcy proceedings went as far back as the 1950s.

Can You Still Recover Compensation if a Catholic Diocese Files for Bankruptcy?

The US Bankruptcy Court handles bankruptcy cases. When a Catholic diocese starts the bankruptcy process, the court suspends all civil suits against it and partially freezes the diocese’s assets after filing.

Federal judges handling the bankruptcy case will review the diocese’s assets.

The bankruptcy court will allocate money to plaintiffs after the deadline for filing claims expires but will ensure the Catholic diocese has enough funds to continue operating,

Some argue that many dioceses and religious orders use bankruptcy to shield assets and avoid transparency.

Catholic dioceses can transfer assets to trusts and protect them from court scrutiny before filing for bankruptcy.

To illustrate, a 2020 Bloomberg report revealed that Catholic dioceses in America protected $2 billion from victims by protecting assets before filing for bankruptcy.

Additionally, most Catholic dioceses facing sex crime cases undergo bankruptcy proceedings to protect their reputation.

In some cases, unlike a civil lawsuit, Catholic dioceses or religious orders won’t have to release sensitive documents to the public. 

Catholic schools are not included in bankruptcy proceedings and will continue operating because they are separate legal entities from dioceses.

Vendors will also receive payment for goods and services after the bankruptcy filing.

Claimants’ Rights After Catholic Dioceses File for Bankruptcy

The bankruptcy court ensures that claimants will receive compensation through the bankruptcy proceedings.

However, claimants may receive less money from a bankruptcy agreement than they could have obtained through a lawsuit.

Another downside is that it may take longer to obtain a settlement through a bankruptcy agreement, but the court has to allocate funds once the deadline for filing suits expires.

Can You Sue Bankrupt Roman Catholic Dioceses?

Dioceses use bankruptcy to avoid civil litigation. Nevertheless, you can take legal action against a diocese even if it has declared bankruptcy. The case will go through the US Bankruptcy Court. 

Catholic Church bankruptcies help many dioceses protect their assets and avoid the transparency a civil suit would entail.

Unfortunately, a bankruptcy filing could delay justice for plaintiffs and their families and protect Catholic dioceses that don’t deserve it.

Were you or a loved one abused by a leader in the Catholic Church? Has the church already filed for bankruptcy?

Our compassionate attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, will ensure you recover financial compensation for your losses, even if the diocese has already filed for bankruptcy.

Contact our law firm at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation.

All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship. 

Our lawyers handle all accepted Catholic Church sexual abuse cases on a contingency fee basis.

This agreement ensures you don’t have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.


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