With many sexual abuse lawsuits pending, dozens of Catholic Churches and institutions nationwide are filing for bankruptcy protections under Chapter 11, seeking debt reorganization. This could change how courts handle survivors’ claims. This includes the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which filed for bankruptcy in September 2023. The filing came only a few days before new laws eliminating the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases took effect.
If you believe you may have a clergy sexual abuse case based on your experiences as a child or teen, contact an attorney handling these cases right away. Despite the bankruptcy filings, benefits likely remain for survivors of abuse who wish to pursue their cases.
How Does the Catholic Diocese Filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Affect Survivors?
Chapter 11 bankruptcy could allow these Catholic dioceses to settle survivors’ clergy abuse claims without completely liquidating assets. Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows filers to restructure their debts, usually by negotiating with debtors.
With dozens of dioceses and Catholic institutions currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, this process could affect many child sex abuse survivors nationwide.
In an interview with the Associated Press, our founder Rob Jenner said, “It’s just a further locking of the file cabinet doors to keep victims from seeing the full weight and scope of wrongdoing.”
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How Is Clergy Abuse Litigation Handled Under Chapter 11 Bankruptcy?
When civil case defendants file for bankruptcy, courts alter how they handle their cases. In short, these bankruptcy filings change everything. There are no more jury trials for these plaintiffs. Instead, the bankruptcy court will manage the pending cases. The bankruptcy court cannot hear evidence, interview witnesses, and award compensation based on the case facts.
Instead, the bankruptcy judge will likely force the diocese to create a fund to pay survivors. The court will weigh many factors to determine how much money must go into this fund. This includes the diocese’s endowment, revenues, insurance proceeds, and market value. The court could also consider how many lawsuits are pending.
One purpose of Chapter 11 bankruptcy is to settle all debts and liabilities, which includes any outstanding civil litigation. When the bankruptcy case closes, survivors may have no additional options. This makes it more critical for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to come forward as soon as possible.
What Should Clergy Abuse Survivors Do Now That Some Catholic Churches and Institutions Have Filed for Bankruptcy Reorganization?
If you believe you may have a clergy abuse case in Baltimore or another area where the diocese has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, you must act quickly. You should speak with an attorney handling these cases to learn more about your options and next steps. Our firm offers free initial consultations for survivors.
While there likely won’t be a jury trial in your case now, we still want to fight for the compensation and justice you deserve. Generally, clergy sexual abuse survivors can seek fair compensation for:
- Past and present medical bills, such as for therapy and mental health support
- Past and present income losses and reduced earning ability
- Past and present pain and suffering, including emotional distress
When the payout comes from a fund the bankruptcy court sets up, you can expect less money than a civil court might award following a jury trial. However, you can likely avoid painful testimony and will not need to meet the same stringent standards to prove your case to the court. In addition, pursuing a payout from the fund usually allows the claimant to remain anonymous. Media coverage of your case is unlikely, and this could reduce the stress you face.
If you or a loved one believes you may have a childhood sexual abuse case against a Catholic clergy member, teacher, nun, church employee, or another party affiliated with a Catholic institution, such as a school or a hospital, contact an attorney as soon as possible about your legal options.
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Why Did the Archdiocese of Baltimore Declare Bankruptcy?
In a statement the Archdiocese of Baltimore issued, Most Reverend William E. Lori notes the passage of The Child Victims Act of 2023 as a reason why it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Key components of this law, which makes sweeping changes for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, went into effect on October 1, 2023.
These changes include:
- Expanding the definition of childhood sexual abuse to include organizations and institutions that failed to prevent the abuse
- Eliminating the statute of limitations for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue liable parties, effective October 1, 2023
- Permitting retroactive lawsuits for those who ran out of time
- Raising caps on recoverable damages
With the April passage of this act, many survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Maryland gained the legal right to sue organizations and institutions that harmed them. This particularly affects the Archdiocese of Baltimore because of the high rate of Baltimore clergy abuse uncovered during a recently published report.
In early 2023, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General published a comprehensive report based on its four-year investigation into clergy abuse in Baltimore. The report identifies more than 150 credibly accused clergy members, teachers, nuns, and others by name. Investigators interviewed more than 300 victims and witnesses and believe at least 600 children endured abuse by clergy members associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
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Jenner Law’s legal team understands how challenging it can be to discuss childhood sexual abuse. We are here to help you seek justice and hold those who hurt you responsible.
We accept Maryland clergy abuse cases, including those against the Archdiocese of Baltimore and other church-run institutions in the greater Baltimore area. We provide free, confidential, no-obligation consultations so you can learn about your legal options and decide if you want to move forward with legal action. Contact us now to learn more.