Attorneys: NJ diocese’s bankruptcy plan hurts sexual abuse survivors
A reorganization plan filed by the Diocese of Camden on New Year's Eve is a sneak attack that aims to cut off the rights of sexual abuse survivors and limit how much money can go to claimants in the years ahead, according to attorneys who handle abuse claims from New Jersey residents.
The Diocese, meanwhile, says it's been extremely forthcoming with details and documentation, and needs to get the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process moving sooner rather than later, partly due to cost.
The Diocese of Camden filed Chapter 11 at the start of October, citing financial obstacles caused by the pandemic and payouts to victims of clergy abuse. On Dec. 31, it filed its plan of reorganization and detailed disclosure statement.
"It is a dark and dirty scheme, by this bishop and the Diocese of Camden and all the entities controlled by it, to deceive the public, to deceive the survivors ... and to avoid accountability," attorney Jeff Anderson told reporters. "Happy new year, survivors."
Anderson held a virtual news conference in partnership with New Jersey attorney Greg Gianforcaro — the pair has been assisting people through the process of New Jersey's Victim's Rights Bill, which extended the statute of limitations for child sex abuse and opened a two-year window for survivors to take legal action, no matter when the abuse occurred.
That window is set to close on Nov. 30. Under the Diocese's reorganization plan, though, Anderson noted, the deadline for claims under this law against the Diocese would close at some point over the next couple of months.
"The plan cuts off the right of survivors to sue in court ... and it is in court where those names of those offenders ... can be revealed," Anderson said. "This keeps all the identities of the criminals, all the clerics and all of those who have raped and violated children for all of these years, secret."
Since 1992, the Diocese has settled 170 claims and paid more than $20 million to victims. According to the Diocese, no new case of abuse of a minor has been reported as having occurred since 2001.
"The Diocese has also previously disclosed the names of all priests who have been credibly accused of any child abuse," the Diocese said in an emailed statement.
Since filing Chapter 11, the Diocese has attempted to mediate the process with the Tort Claimants' Committee, but the committee has insisted that the Diocese wait until 2022 to begin the reorganization process, the statement said. The costs of this ongoing process are substantial, including nearly $250,000 per quarter, the statement said. The Diocese's statement did not directly refer to Anderson's accusations.
Anderson also took issue with the Diocese's plans to put $10 million into a trust fund to compensate abuse survivors, to be distributed at a rate of $1 million per year.
"And in that trust, the Bishop has determined that all claims past, present, and future will be paid out of it by someone determined by the bishop," Anderson said. "Not a judge, not a jury, the bishop. Under this scheme, the Diocese, its parishes, and all the entities controlled by the Diocese, are not required to pay anything more than $10 million held in the trust — no matter what."
Reorganization documents already filed show that the Bishop has forgiven $25 million dollars' worth of debts owed to the Diocese by its parishes, Anderson added.
The Bankruptcy Court is scheduled to hear the Diocese of Camden's latest filing on Feb. 4. This is the "initial step towards reorganizing and paying survivors and other creditors," the Diocese said.