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Diocese of Rockville Centre faces bankruptcy amid abuse lawsuits

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The Diocese of Rockville Centre could face bankruptcy if the nearly 100 child sex-abuse lawsuits filed against it are not put on hold, according to court papers.

Last month, the Diocese filed a motion in Nassau County Supreme Court for a stay pending an appeal, claiming it is straining under the legal defense costs and that it has lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In its motion, the Diocese said, “These litigation expenditures—that are only going to increase on a monthly basis, absent a stay—are placing a very significant stress on the diocese’s finances, which are also being decimated by the COVID-19’s pandemic.”

When the parishes closed in late March, donations declined by 77 percent, according to the filing, no payments were received between March 23 and April 3, and during April – which included Holy Week, a normally significant source of revenue, donations were down 60 percent, according to the diocese.

The diocese, under the leadership of Bishop John Barres, has spent $3.7 million in its defense against 94 lawsuits filed against it under New York’s Child Victims Act, which provides a legal window to revive decades old abuse claims.

The diocese said bankruptcy is “a last resort” that is “not an attempt to turn its back on victims or shield predators from any punishment they deserve.”

In April, the diocese lost its challenge to the law’s constitutionality when Nassau Supreme Court Justice Steven Jaeger ruled the law “a reasonable response to remedy the injustice of past child sexual abuse.”

The diocese is appealing the decision and argued that if it must continue to litigate the CVA cases while the appeal is ongoing, it will also be forced to end a program that has so far paid out $57 million to 320 abuse victims.

According to plaintiff attorneys from Jeff Anderson and Associates, the CVA was enacted to “allow justice for past and future survivors of child sexual abuse, help the public identify hidden child predators through civil litigation discovery, and shift the significant and lasting costs of child sexual abuse to the responsible parties.”

In its opposition to the motion for stay filed June 15, the attorneys said the appeal is “meritless.”

“The Diocese’s threat to file bankruptcy if the court does not grant its motion and delay its production of the most fundamental information about its role in decades of child sexual abuse, a role well-documented in at least one grand jury report, illustrates that it knows its appeal is meritless and that it seeks a stay for the improper purpose of delay,” Jeffery Anderson said. “This court should not let such threats of bankruptcy slow down the litigation that will uncover this important information and bring it to light.”