A bankruptcy judge Wednesday proposed having several of the 600 clergy...

A bankruptcy judge Wednesday proposed having several of the 600 clergy sex abuse cases against the Diocese of Rockville Centre go to trial as “test cases” to help set guidelines for a settlement. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A bankruptcy judge Wednesday offered a new strategy to reach a settlement between Long Island's Catholic Church and hundreds of clergy sex abuse survivors, a day after the deadline to resolve the case.

Judge Martin Glenn of U.S. Bankruptcy Court said he has discussed the possibility of having several of the 600 clergy sex abuse cases against the diocese go to trial as “test cases” or “bellwether cases” to help set guidelines for a settlement.

Otherwise, Glenn warned, he might become the first jurist in the country to dismiss bankruptcy proceedings against a Catholic diocese if the two sides didn't reach an agreement. Attorneys for the diocese said the church is not interested in the proposal while lawyers representing survivors described the plan as "a great idea."

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, the 8th largest diocese in the nation with 1.3 million baptized Catholics, declared bankruptcy three years ago, with negotiations going on since then.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A bankruptcy judge has offered a new strategy to reach a settlement between Long Island's Catholic Church and hundreds of clergy sex abuse survivors.
  • Judge Martin Glenn said he has discussed the possibility of having several clergy sex abuse cases go to trial as “test cases” to help set guidelines for a settlement.
  • Lawyers for the Diocese of Rockville Centre said the church opposes the proposal while attorneys for survivors voiced support.

“I don’t want to be the first judge to dismiss one of these cases, but that sounds like where this is headed,” Glenn said. “All I’m asking is … try and be as creative as you can. Come up with some solutions.”

In the proposal mentioned by Glenn, the chosen cases would be heard by Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman, whom one attorney said is known for running a “Rocket Docket” in which cases advance rapidly. Glenn said in court he has spoken with Steinman, who agreed to hear the cases with a jury seated.

The test cases “will give you some guidance as to a jury’s reaction to how they perceive survivors’ credibility” and how much an award would be, James Stang, the lead attorney representing the survivors, said in an interview.

Another attorney representing some of the survivors, Jeff Anderson, called the proposal “a great idea” that generates “the kind of pressure that makes cases get settled.”

The idea is that when the church, the parishes and the insurance companies see the potential amount a jury awards, it will pressure them to reach a settlement out of court, he said.

Anderson said that in a similar situation he was involved with in California, three cases were tried, leading to 1,000 more being settled.

But the diocese indicated Wednesday it had no interest in the judge's proposal, saying it would cause "chaos" and that a global settlement for all cases is still the best option. The church said it has made an offer of $200 million, with an immediate payment of $100,000 to each survivor and more to come later.

"We agree with Judge Glenn that survivors have waited too long for compensation and that the alternative to a global settlement plan creates chaos that puts both survivor compensation and parishes at risk," said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese.

If the committee representing the survivors "delays or does not agree to the settlement plan, more money will be wasted on legal proceedings, ultimately decreasing the funds available for survivor compensation," he said.

Dolan said Rockville Centre "has made the highest settlement offer of any diocesan bankruptcy case to date."

When Corrine Ball, an attorney for the diocese, made the same point in court Wednesday, Stang responded that “there is no fair market value for child rape.” He added that “we do not believe that they are putting forth a reasonable settlement offer.”

The church argues that its offer is the best it can do and still keep parishes, schools and other entities functioning.

Last week, the diocese confirmed it has sold for $20 million most of the land at the 216-acre Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyds Neck. It will retain 16 acres for the seminary building itself and the land immediately surrounding it.

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