Bishop’s letter cites impact of pandemic and payments to victims of sexual abuse

CAMDEN – The Diocese of Camden has filed for creditor protection due to the combined impact of clergy sex abuse claims and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have had to make many decisions since I was your bishop, but few have been so

regarded as this,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan said in a letter released Thursday evening.

Sullivan said the diocese has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law.

He noted that the Diocese of South Jersey had paid out more than $8 million through a compensation fund for victims of sexual abuse.

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Sullivan also said the diocese, which recently pulled out of the victims fund, faces more than 50 sex abuse lawsuits due to a state law that lifted the statute of limitations for such cases. .

At the same time, the Bishop said, the ongoing pandemic has “reduced our income and deeply affected our parishioners and neighbors.”

“If it was just the pandemic or just the cost (of payments to victims of sexual abuse), we could probably bear the financial impact,” Sullivan wrote.

The diocese said its 251-page filing “immediately halts all debt collection efforts and legal actions” against him.

The record estimates diocesan assets to be between $50 million and $100 million.

It lists more than 50 properties, including the diocesan headquarters at 631 Market Street in Camden, and 17 vehicles. He also notes an “episcopal cross, in gold, with several jewels, of (Pope) Pius X”.

The record gives no value for these items.

Liabilities are between about $10 million and $50 million, depending on the filing.

“It appears to be a model for dioceses,” said Benjamin Andreozzi, a Harrisburg attorney who has filed seven lawsuits against the diocese since July.

A reorganization file was also announced Thursday by the Diocese of Rockville Center on Long Island. Others have taken the plunge before, including the dioceses of Buffalo, Harrisburg, Rochester and Syracuse.

“It’s actually not a bad option” for victims of abuse, said Andreozzi, who said cases could be resolved more quickly in bankruptcy court and with judicial review of financial issues.

The reorganization also allows a diocese “to exhaust all of its potential responsibilities in the future,” he added.

It is also the

Reorganization also allows a diocese to bypass the civil justice system, “which forces transparency and accountability,” said Greg Gianforcaro, a Phillipsburg attorney with several lawsuits pending against the diocese.

“Church leaders are trying every trick in the book to avoid the consequences of their reckless endangerment of children,” he said.

Sullivan said a reorganization overseen by the Diocesan Finance Court “is the best option” to compensate survivors of clergy sex abuse “and also to ensure the future financial health of the diocese.”

He said the filing is intended “to address remaining abuse claims, streamline substantial legal expenses and avoid the rush to the courthouse that would likely leave subsequent plaintiffs left without a remedy.”

The Diocese of Camden has filed for reorganization of its finances under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act.

He said the deposit will also “safeguard the assets that make our religious, educational and social service ministries possible.”

In a statement, the diocese said its reorganization should not affect Catholic parishes, schools or charities, describing them as “separate legal entities”.

“There are currently no plans to cut staff or programs,” he added.

The diocese — the first in New Jersey to file for reorganization — serves about 486,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties.

The Diocese of Camden hinted at financial problems in July when it withdrew from the independent victim compensation scheme. The fund was supported by the state dioceses and the Archdiocese of Newark.

Leaving the fund, the Diocese of Camden referred to a “precipitous decline in revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The diocese also said it is “rapidly approaching a point where it will no longer be able to continue to borrow the funds necessary to pay the amounts awarded by the program.”

At least seven sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against the diocese since its withdrawal from the fund, according to state court records.

The lawsuits claim the diocese failed to protect children from predatory priests from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

They are seeking damages for alleged assaults in the parishes of Bellmawr, Camden, Gibbstown, Newfield, Pennsauken, Somerdale and Waterford. Two of the accused priests also served at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill and St. James High School in Carneys Point.

The Diocese of Camden said it has paid out financial settlements of more than $10 million since 1990 “to provide a measure of justice for survivors of clerical abuse”.

He has also spent nearly $1 million on professional consulting services.

Jim Walsh is a senior reporter at the Courier-Post. His interests include crime, the courts, economic development and being the first to know about breaking news. Contact him at [email protected]

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