(Buffalo, NY) – Late yesterday, the Diocese of Buffalo filed a preliminary injunction in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York attempting to prevent survivors of child sexual abuse from pursuing their cases against non-bankrupt entities and effectively silence survivors.
Sexual abuse survivors and the Diocese, parishes and other non-debtor entities participated in mediation efforts for months, but to-date no resolution has been reached. As part of a good faith effort to try and resolve this case, the Unsecured Creditors Committee, made up of six sexual abuse survivors, agreed to place a hold on litigation against non-debtor entities while the parties attempted to reach a resolution in mediation. The agreement expired on September 30th and the Survivors Committee decided not to renew the agreement to try and get survivors their day in court.
“There’s no such thing as ‘sort of’ bankrupt. The Diocese wants its affiliated entities to have the protection of bankruptcy without the legal responsibilities of bankruptcy,” said attorney Steve Boyd. “It’s time to let juries decide these cases.”
As part of a potential resolution to the case, the Diocese wants to release non-debtor entities, like the parishes, from financial and legal liability. The Diocese has also claimed it will contribute “up to $100 million to a settlement trust for survivors,” and that litigation against non-debtor entities will, “…slow the progress of the Case, be a huge drain on resources of the Diocese, and will diminish the ability of Related Entities to contribute to a survivor trust under a chapter 11 plan.” The Diocese is requesting the stay be extended to April 2024. A hearing on this issue will take place on November 28th in bankruptcy court.
“The Diocese is more concerned about bottom lines and bank statements than they are about survivors,” said attorney Stacey Benson. “It’s never been more apparent that when push comes to shove, their true priorities are themselves.”
In February 2020, the Diocese of Buffalo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Diocese officials made the decision to file bankruptcy after being named as a defendant in hundreds of lawsuits filed under the New York Child Victims Act.
The Diocese of Buffalo appears to be following the lead of the neighboring Diocese of Rochester. In May 2022, Rochester filed a motion to force a $147 million settlement on 475 survivors and victims of clergy sexual abuse. Prior to its attempt to cram down a settlement on survivors, the Diocese of Rochester filed a similar motion to prevent survivors from pursuing non-debtor entities. The Court ruled in favor of survivors in Rochester, allowing 475 claims to move forward against parishes.