The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is preparing to file for bankruptcy in a move that could suspend action in pending lawsuits and block new lawsuits by victims of priest sexual abuse. The archdiocese is currently facing suits from up to 450 alleged victims, and lawyers for both sides estimate that settlements could total more than $100 million, according to the Boston Globe. Declaring bankruptcy would be an effective admission of negligence in dealing with abuse in the Catholic Church, according to BBC News. The Globe estimates that real estate owned by the archdiocese has an assessed value of at least $1.3 billion. Cardinal Bernard Law has not yet made a decision on filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but the Associated Press reports that his advisors are pushing for this move.
Experts and analysts have weighed in on the potential benefits and problems for both the Church and the victims in declaring bankruptcy. On the one hand, lawyers representing the victims may have a smaller cut of the settlements than the one-third or more they are likely to receive now, according to the Globe. However, in the Church’s favor, victims would be lumped into a single group, and a time limit would be set to file new claims. In addition, Law would not be required to complete any further pretrial depositions, and the archdiocese would not have to release any more files on priests to victims’ lawyers, according to AP. Victims’ lawyers plan to make public this week the personnel files of 65 priests accused of sexual abuse, according to AP.
The priest sex abuse scandal received national attention early this year when it was revealed that a priest who was accused of molesting children was allowed to continue his duties, and was knowingly transferred from parish to parish by Cardinal Law, Boston’s highest-ranking Church official. Victims’ groups have repeatedly called for Cardinal Law’s resignation. The church has declined to release statistics; however, lawyers, newspapers, and interest groups have estimated that as many as 1,500 priests have molested children in the last five decades. In this year alone, more than 300 US priests have been removed from their ministries for sex abuse. Despite the attention focused on male victims of priest sexual abuse, females comprise roughly half of the membership of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a major victims’ group founded by Barbara Blaine.