Date: Sunday, March 01, 2020
We were expecting it but news of the Diocese filing for Chapter 11 (Bankruptcy reorganization) is troubling as we try to sort out what this will mean for those who have suffered abuse by clergy, for the Diocese as it reorganizes and for our parish. The Church of the Annunciation remains committed to helping victims find hope and healing and to create a safe environment for all and especially for those who are the most vulnerable amongst us.
Context is important. In response to the tragedy of child sexual abuse, the New York State Child Victims Act was passed last year. A one year legal window to file lawsuits opened on August 14, 2019. The Diocese of Buffalo is facing a significant number of claims of sexual abuse of minors. Litigation cost, settlements and jury awards will exceed Diocesan resources and the Diocese of Buffalo will be unable to litigate or settle these claims. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, our Apostolic Administrator, after much prayer, study and consultation, has determined the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo must file for Chapter 11, under the United States Bankruptcy Code.
Bishop Scharfenberger acknowledges that this is a very difficult and painful decision. But after assessing all reasonable possibilities to satisfy claims, reorganization is considered the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the Diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions. Chapter 11 is the best way we can provide compensation for all who have suffered abuse, while ensuring the continued commitment of the Church to the mission of Christ. If the Diocese chose not to file Chapter 11, it would face multiple civil actions, a slow, unpredictable and costly process. Those who filed suits first would receive all available funds to pay victims. Later claimants would receive nothing. Most importantly, such lengthy proceedings delay justice for the victims and only prolong their pain and suffering.
We are concerned how this filing affects our parish. Parishes are separately incorporated. It is my understanding, the Bankruptcy Judge will issue a “channeling injunction” that will offer all parishes protection even parishes cited in lawsuits. As part of the reorganization plan, which must be approved by the bankruptcy court, the Diocese will create a victim’s fund with money from Diocesan assets and from insurance carriers. Prudently, parishes will choose to contribute to this fund. Our participation will offer a level of protection from present or future claimant(s) individually suing the Church of the Annunciation. There may be a reaction from some to withhold contributions to our parish with concern of our support to the diocese through assessments at this time of crisis. However, your offertory contributions, special donations and memorial gifts are vital to sustain our parish ministries and day-to-day operations.
Filing Chapter 11 will enable the Catholic Church to offer compensation and reconciliation to victims of abuse and to refocus our mission on Christ’s mandate to preach, teach and sanctify, to reach out to our brothers and sisters suffering abuse, to serve those in need and continue to be a Sacrament of God’s mercy and love.
I promise to keep you informed as we go down this path together. Your counsel and support are critical. Dioceses who have filed Chapter 11 have emerged from bankruptcy with core Diocesan services and ministries intact and with parishes having a renewed appreciation of their mission.