The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse filed Friday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying that while it had settled 80 sex abuse allegations by priests, it still expects to face 100 to 150 lawsuits.
The diocese listed total assets of $38.2 million and existing liabilities of $35.8 million in its motions in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York. However, it estimated potential liabilities from the abuse cases in the “tens of millions.”
About the diocese
The Syracuse diocese has:
• 114 parishes, including St. Anthony of Padua and St. Mary’s in Cortland, St. Margaret’s in Homer, Church of the Nativity at St. Leo in Tully.
• 11 missions, including , Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission in Cincinnatus and St. Lawrence Mission in DeRuyter.
• Seven oratories, including St. Patrick Oratory of Truxton.
• 22 schools, including St. Mary’s in Cortland.
• The Catholic Community of St. Stephen – St. Patrick of Marathon.
• A number of cemeteries, including St. Mary’s Cemetery of Cortland and St. Patrick’s Cemetery Association of Truxton.
• Two hospitals, six area Catholic Charities, 3,000 employees — 158 employed directly with the diocese — and 227,000 congregants.
The parishes, charities, schools, the diocesean foundation and other entities are legally separate and are not part of the Chapter 11 filing.
“The diocese does not seek to avoid responsibility for any past misconduct by clergy or for any acts or omissions of the diocese relating to such misconduct,” it said in court documents.
In fact, it posts a list of 32 priests removed from the ministry, five who died, resigned or left the priesthood, and 20 who died before accusations were brought to light.
Among those priests are three who served in the greater Cortland area: Thomas F. Keating, III, John M. Zeder and Daniel W. Casey, all of whom served at St. Mary’s in Cortland, and all of whom have since died.
“It is my hope that during this process of reorganization and following its completion, we will continue to pray for the healing of those who had been harmed during this very dark chapter of the church,” Bishop Douglas J. Lucia said Friday at a news conference in Syracuse. “As your bishop, I must again, apologize for these heinous acts and ask you all to join me in our diocesan commitment that these acts will never take place again.”
“We see the diocese’s decision to declare bankruptcy as strategic, cowardly and wholly self-serving,” said Cynthia LaFave, a lawyer with Jeff Anderson and Associates, which has filed suits on behalf of the victims 32 this week.
“At the heart of these cases, we find a similarly willful deceit on the diocese’s part — persistent attempts to evade accountability and a concerted effort to conceal information,” LaFave said. “For decades, the diocese has possessed knowledge that could have prevented an untold number of horrors against children.”
As part of the Chapter 11 reorganization plan, the diocese would create a victims fund with money from its accounts and from insurance carriers.
However, it said, “Without a reorganization, the diocese and claimants will face a slow, unpredictable and costly process that would require years of court involvement. Such a protracted process would delay justice for the victims and only prolong their pain and suffering.”
Further, it said, “The challenge this situation presents to our diocese is simply that one jury award could so diminish our assets that we would have little or nothing with which to resolve the other claims or carry on the important ministries of the diocese.”
However, said Jeff Anderson, bankruptcy can limit survivors’ ability to get information on predator priests, who may have protected them, and how.
“This lack of transparency is a real threat to child safety,” Anderson said.