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Catholic Diocese of Rochester files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

James Brown/WXXI News
Credit James Brown/WXXI News

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester has declared bankruptcy after dozens of lawsuits were filed alleging child sexual abuse over several decades. WXXI’s James Brown has the story.

The paperwork was filed Thursday morning in the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York.

In the filing, the diocese claims to have between 200 and 999 creditors, and estimates its assets to be between $50 million and $100 million, with liabilities in excess of $100 million.

In the written action to petition, the diocese’s attorneys say the filing is due to “liabilities arising or asserted in connection with the New York Child Victims Act, the impact of such liabilities on the continuation of the mission of the diocese and the strategic alternatives available to the diocese.”

Bishop Salvatore Matano explained the bankruptcy in a press conference, saying the potential losses are too much for the diocese to handle. He says this is the best way forward for the victims as well. 

“Reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, parishes, agencies and institutions,” said Matano.

Jeff Anderson’s law firm filed many of the suits against the diocese after the state allowed a one-year window for people who allege they were sexually abused as children to take legal action. He says this move isn’t about fairness at all.

“He [Matano] made the decision that he does not want the files the names and the histories of the practices revealed through litigation by the survivors," said Anderson.

Anderson said bankruptcy cases with dioceses typically take between two and four years.

“We have in 12 different cases of reorganization represented dozens, if not hundreds, of survivors in these processes," he said. "So we know how to make it work, we know how to help them help themselves, and help protect other kids.” Some other law firms representing alleged victims are weighing in on the diocese's bankruptcy filing as well. 

“These bankruptcy proceedings will not deter us or any of the survivors we represent from bringing the Diocese of Rochester to justice,” said James Marsh of the New York-based Marsh Law Firm.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian released a statement saying that, "The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the Diocese of Rochester 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."

Rochester has become the first of New York state's eight dioceses to seek protection from creditors in bankruptcy court because of financial fallout from the church's decades-long sex abuse scandal.   The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 WXXI News

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
Before coming to WXXI News, James spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for Rochester City Newspaper. While at City, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.