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Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese seeks bankruptcy protection

June 19, 2020 GMT

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse on Friday became the third of New York’s eight dioceses to file for bankruptcy protection as it defends itself against more than 100 lawsuits alleging clergy sexual misconduct.

Bishop Douglas Lucia said financial losses during the coronavirus pandemic, which closed churches in March, worsened the financial picture. The Chapter 11 filing estimates $10 million to $50 million in assets, and $50 million to $100 million in liabilities.

“Without a reorganization, the diocese and claimants will face a slow, unpredictable and costly process that would require years of court involvement,” Lucia wrote in a public letter. “Such a protracted process would delay justice for the victims and only prolong their pain and suffering.”

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The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court comes as the number of lawsuits filed by people who claim to have been sexually abused as children continues to grow. New York last year passed a law allowing victims of childhood sexual abuse to file claims that had previously been barred because the allegations were too old.

The original deadline for those suing under the Child Victims Act was Aug. 14. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May extended it to Jan. 14, 2021, because of COVID-19. A bill approved by the Legislature would set the deadline in August 2021.

The Buffalo and Rochester dioceses are among more than two dozen nationwide that have filed bankruptcy. The move shifts cases from state courts to the federal court, where claimants’ attorneys say they have less access to diocesan records that could expose what church leaders knew about alleged misconduct and when.

“This lack of transparency is a real threat to child safety,” said attorney Jeff Anderson, who with other lawyers filed 32 sexual abuse complaints against the Syracuse diocese this week.

“For decades, the diocese has possessed knowledge that could have prevented an untold number of horrors against children,” attorney Cynthia LaFave said in a news release.

Lucia said the reorganization would ensure that funds are allocated fairly among all victims, rather than favoring those who filed suits first or pursue claims more aggressively.

He said Catholic schools and individual parishes are not directly affected.

The bankruptcy judge will set a deadline for individuals to file claims in bankruptcy court as the diocese begins to restructure its assets and finances.

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Associated Press writer Marina Villeneuve contributed from Albany, N.Y. Thompson reported from Buffalo, N.Y.