The Diocese of Buffalo recently asked a New York bankruptcy court to consider shortening the timeframe for child sexual abuse survivors to come forward and file claims in bankruptcy court. Right now, the claims bar date is set for August 2021, the same deadline for survivors across the state of New York to come forward under the Child Victims Act (CVA). This request from the Diocese blatantly disregards survivors’ rights and undermines the spirit and intent of the legislature when it passed and extended the CVA deadline, as well as the bankruptcy court and creditors’ committees desires to allow as many survivors to come forward as possible, in a very short period of time. Survivors have been waiting decades to finally have an opportunity to have their voices heard and find redress for the harm they suffered and continue to suffer.
The decision by the Bishop and Diocese of Buffalo to file for Chapter 11 reorganization was a legal tactic designed to silence survivors and prevent accountability for their actions and inactions over the past several decades. Now they want to blame survivors for their own ineptitude. Diocesan leadership publicly claimed that to fund operations going forward, the Diocese must further scale back support of ministries “at the expense of the faithful and of poor and underserved communities in Western New York” or spend down unrestricted assets that “might otherwise be available to a victim fund as part of a Chapter 11 plan.”
This victim-blaming and disingenuous approach to the bankruptcy proceedings is disgraceful and simply false. Unfortunately, it’s also nothing new and is one more page out of the playbook that is all too familiar to the Catholic hierarchy. The Diocese fails to self-reflect and understand that the very reason it is in this situation is because of its own decisions made by leadership and their inability to do the right thing and protect children from child-abusing priests, choosing instead to preserve their own reputation at the expense of child safety.
Over two dozen Catholic dioceses and religious orders across the United States have used federal bankruptcy court to hide their transgressions. Often, Bishops mislead the public, parishioners and the survivors who were harmed by sexually abusive priests, into thinking that if things don’t go their way, the diocese and its parishes, schools and other entities will have to shut down and that litigations costs will drain their assets leaving nothing for survivors. This is simply untrue and contradicts all of their contentions that the priority is healing for survivors.
No diocese or religious order has ever “shut down” because of bankruptcy, yet time after time, the Bishops and their lawyers have taken every opportunity to blame survivors, legislators, and the legal system for their woes, not only for allegedly causing the bankruptcy, but sometimes for the abuse itself. Take for example:
- Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis – “The longer the process lasts, more money is spent on attorneys’ fees and bankruptcy expenses; and in turn, less money is available for victims/survivors.”
- Lawyers for the Diocese of Harrisburg – “If lawsuits like this are continuing or allowed to continue, really, I think every diocese in Pennsylvania will strongly consider bankruptcy and I assume many of them will go that route.”
- Bishop Robert Cunningham, former Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse – testifying under oath, blaming a victim of sexual abuse: “The boy is culpable.”
To all survivors who have courageously come forward and shared your truth: thank you. Please take comfort. Know that it is not your fault – it’s not your fault that the abuse happened and it’s not your fault that the Catholic hierarchy, most recently in the Diocese of Buffalo, chose to blame everyone else for their faults instead of looking in the mirror.