Three years after declaring bankruptcy, the Diocese of Rockville Centre said Thursday it had failed to reach a settlement with 600 survivors of clergy sexual abuse as an Oct. 31 court-imposed deadline crept closer.
The diocese said it had been offering the survivors an average of at least $400,000 each, but attorneys for the survivors said that was far too little. The attorneys said they expect the cases to now be sent back to state civil court, where awards could be even higher.
Legal fees in the protracted proceedings have reached $100 million, according to attorneys.
Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement: “The Diocese, parishes, and related parties have made their highest and best settlement offer in the amount of $200 million” to be divided among the survivors.
“This offer would provide survivors with the largest settlement of any diocese in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case to date: an average of $400,000 per claimant, plus insurance assets, which could amount to additional tens or hundreds of millions of dollars,” Dolan said.
Attorneys for survivors said the offer was inadequate given the diocese’s assets, and that the $100 million spent on legal fees could have gone to their clients.
“For a child who was raped by their priest, $400,000 is grossly inadequate,” said Jordan Merson, a Manhattan-based attorney representing some of the survivors.
“The diocese throughout this process has continued to try to minimize and bully survivors," Merson said, "and this letter is just another example of it.”
After millions spent on legal fees, the Catholic Church on Long Island is “right back where it was before declaring bankruptcy,” he said.
Merson and other attorneys said a possible path now is that Judge Martin Glenn of U.S. Bankruptcy Court will send the cases back to state civil court for trials and potential payouts. That is where they had originally been filed under the New York State Child Victims Act.
The law allowed a two-year “look back” window in which child victims of sexual abuse could file lawsuits no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
The diocese declared bankruptcy in October 2020, saying payouts from the CVA could leave it in financial ruin. The diocese has previously paid out a total of about $62 million to 350 survivors under an “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” that began in 2017.
Dolan said the dioceses and parishes have “cut budgets to the bone to provide the best possible offer they can in good faith. The goal has always been to provide a fair and equitable resolution for all claimants while allowing the Church, her schools and her charitable work to continue.”
In a letter to the judge, the diocese added: “Parish churches cannot close their doors to parishioners. Schools cannot turn their students away. Cemeteries cannot allow the graves of those entrusted to them to fall into disrepair. Food pantries and immigration services cannot cease operations.”
Judge Glenn has indicated he might take the step of becoming the first judge in the nation to kick a Catholic diocese out of bankruptcy.
"The survivors deserve an opportunity to be heard by a jury of their peers," Glenn said in court in July. "They've been held off too long."
He had set the Oct. 31 deadline to reach an agreement. Attorneys for survivors said a settlement now was unlikely since the diocese had declared in writing to Glenn that settlement talks had failed less than two weeks from the deadline.
Paul Mones, a Los Angeles-attorney representing some of the survivors, criticized the diocese's latest move.
"I am surprised, to say the least, that the church would reveal the discussions in mediation when there are clear dictates in the bankruptcy code that this was a confidential mediation," he said. "I'll leave it up to the judge to decide how to deal with the diocese."