The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre has made what it says is its “best and final proposal” toward a settlement with the more the 600 people who accused the church of child sexual abuse.
In question is the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the diocese filed three years ago, with church officials saying they are willing to amend its reorganization plan to compensate those victims through a $200 million fund the church would set up.
This particular offer isn’t new. In fact, it was made last February, entitling victims to a minimum cash payment of $100,000 for some lawsuits, while others would receive an immediate cash payment of $50,000.
The proposed payout is the largest settlement offer made in any diocesan case to date, according to church spokesman, Sean Dolan — both on a total payout and per-claimant basis.
“Further litigation will delay compensation for all survivors,” Dolan said, in a release. It also “may result in unfair compensation for many survivors, and could ultimately leave some survivors with no compensation at all. Instead of continuing to fund lawyers’ fees, this money is better spent compensating survivors.”
The Diocese of Rockville Centre — the eighth largest in the nation — filed for bankruptcy in late 2020 after hundreds of lawsuits were filed against it following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval of the Child Victims Act. Passed in 2019, the law significantly extended the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.
Lawyers for the diocese and the victims met with Judge Martin Glenn ahead of the church filing its amended proposal last week.
“From the committee’s perspective, the plan they have filed is the same one that we have said ‘no’ to,” James Stang, the attorney representing the victims and other creditors, said.
While the diocese has provided a lump sum of its total finances, Stang says church leaders would need to disclose finances on a parish-by-parish basis in order to get the support of his clients. In order for the plan to move forward, the church would need to get 75 percent of its creditors represented by Stang to approve it.
Yet, rejecting the plan may lead to the dismissal of the bankruptcy case, church officials said, potentially forcing roughly 40 percent of victims to move their claims off the federal docket and back to state court.
“The diocese has already made it clear that it is at the end of its resources,” Dolan said. “Contrary to assertions that additional funds are available to increase settlements, no independent Catholic organizations are being offered releases through the diocese’s proposed plan other than those that will participate in funding the settlement trusts.”
Should the creditors represented by Stang continue to prolong or even dismiss the case, Dolan says it will ensure payments to victims will only go lower than the current settlement offer.
“The diocese hopes that all parties — including survivors and their legal advisors —will vote in favor of the equitable and unprecedented offer in the plan,” Dolan said. “Survivors deserve compensation now, and the diocese’s charitable mission is more important than ever in these uncertain times. Both face a vulnerable and uncertain future if the plan is rejected.”
Mary McKenna, the New York state representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says her organization is “extremely disappointed” the Rockville Centre diocese has refused to budge from its settlement offer.
“It’s a slap in the face to the victims,” McKenna said. The diocese “spent $100 million fighting the victims, and offered them $100,000 if they want to quickly take a deal.
“It doesn’t make sense. These children were raped, and their lives were destroyed. The damage is lifelong.”