On September 12th, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, New York filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The filing comes amidst a slew of of sexual abuse lawsuits against the clergy. Back in March, there was already speculation that some of the dioceses in New York would file for bankruptcy after the Child Victims Act was passed by the state legislature in January.
The Catholic Church spent millions of dollars fighting that Child Victims Act, but the legislation was passed. Last month, on August 14th, a one-year window began allowing past victims who were abused in the state of New York long ago to file lawsuits against the church. More than 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day.
For those who were abused by clergy in the Diocese of Rochester, however, some are dismayed by the recent bankruptcy filing.
Peter Saracino, a 67-year-old retired high school teacher, was abused by a priest when he was in elementary school. “We were raised to view the priest as another Christ, so when you get raped by a priest, it’s like being raped by God himself,” Saracino said.
Saracino filed a lawsuit in August when the one-year window began. He, along with dozens of others who filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Rochester, expected they would battle the church in civil court. Instead, by declaring bankruptcy, the cases will be handled in bankruptcy court.
Saracino and other victims like him wanted a full recounting of the crimes committed by the clergy. Instead, the focus will be on the diocese's finances.
Angry about the turn of events, Saracino said, “Most of us do not give a hoot about the money. We’re after who’s responsible, who’s accountable, which priests are still in the diocese and currently in ministry. Bishop Matano knows full well it’s going to affect the discovery phase. The cover-up is worse than the crime.”
In his defense, Bishop Matano tried to explain that the decision was in the interest of doing "the most we can" for the victims. The diocese now also has a web page dedicated to the matter.
According to Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who has represented victims of clerical abuse in previous cases, the decision to file bankruptcy was “a coordinated decision from the top down. It’s not just a little diocese saying we can’t handle this.” Anderson said that the diocese likely had input from both state and national church leaders, as well as the Vatican itself.
The fears of some of the plaintiffs are not without warrant. Cardinal Timothy Dolan currently serves as archbishop of New York, but twelve years ago, when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee, he asked the Vatican for permission to move $57 million into a cemetery trust fund in order to keep that money from going to victims of abuse.
These are just some of the kinds of shenanigans the Catholic Church will engage in to keep from paying their victims.
From fighting legislation like the Child Victims Act, to playing games hiding their assets, all to avoid their responsibility in the rape of thousands of children, Saracino sums it up well. He said, “The thing they squander most in doing this is their moral authority. They have none anymore.”
Click here to see all my coverage of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal.