The Archdiocese of Baltimore Bankruptcy – What Survivors Need to Know
After years of work in the Maryland State Legislature empowered survivors of child sexual abuse to use the civil courts for justice — as well as a damning report that showed Archdiocese of Baltimore officials knew about child sexual abuse and covered it up — survivors scored a huge win: the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023.
The law came into effect on October 1, 2023, and it eliminates the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, no matter when the abuse occurred. Unlike civil window laws in California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Louisiana, and elsewhere, the Maryland law has no expiration date, allowing survivors to come forward when THEY are ready, without being rushed by arbitrary deadlines.
However, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had other ideas. On the last business day before the law came into effect, the Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, effectively robbing survivors of their rights in civil courts to expose abusers, protect kids, and seek accountability.
Why is this different from other bankruptcies?
Dioceses across the country are filing for bankruptcy for one reason: the deluge of child sexual abuse lawsuits resulting from legislative reform. In California, three dioceses (Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco) have filed in the past year. Others plan to file soon. These bankruptcy filings were all made after the California civil window closed.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, however, couldn’t even allow survivors to seek one day of accountability in the civil courts. Before the law even opened, Archbishop William Lori effectively slammed the civil courtroom doors shut.
Bankruptcy court is no place for sexual abuse survivors
Civil justice for survivors of child sexual abuse does many things. Since survivors are “in the driver’s seat” of the civil justice process, they have the power to use the courts to expose what happened to them for one primary reason: to ensure that the abuse they endure never happens to another child.
Bankruptcy changes all of that. How? Survivors become “creditors.” Instead of acknowledging the gravity of crimes committed against them, the bankruptcy courts make survivors stand in the same line as everyone the diocese owes money to—people like the dry cleaner, the insurance agent, and the electric company.
Exposure of abuse and cover-up, healing, and protecting kids are no longer the primary focus. The focus goes to where the church wants it – money.
After a bankruptcy filing, survivors who were initially able to ask for a public trial are now forced to file claims in the bankruptcy court. Seen as little more than paperwork, survivors of abuse are minimized, yet again. This was never the intention of the lawmakers who wrote the legislation or the survivors who fought so hard for its passage.
There is so much paperwork that abusers and those who cover it up remain hidden in the process —robbing survivors of the single most important reason they came forward at all: exposing abusers and the people who help them.
What happens now?
The Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy process is still being worked out in federal court. Soon, a committee of survivors (the Creditors Committee) will be chosen by the United States Trustee. These hard-working and brave men and women will be charged with fighting to make sure that the Archdiocese stays true to the process and pays a fair amount to survivors — including non-monetary demands.
Within the next few months, the bankruptcy court will also determine a “bar date,” which is a deadline for survivors to come forward and file claims in bankruptcy court. The Maryland law was written with the intention that there would be no deadline for survivors. By filing bankruptcy, the Archdiocese of Baltimore made sure that would never happen.
Aren’t there other options?
Survivors, advocates, and experts agree – the U.S. Bankruptcy Court is no place for survivors of child sexual abuse. But to change the process, legislative intervention is needed. Write your U.S. Senator and Representative and ask them to look at how this bankruptcy process hurts survivors and endangers children. Please encourage them to create legislation to stop this horrendous loophole that flies in the face of the people it is supposed to help.