The Day – Abused priests oppose diocese actions in bankruptcy case

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Norwich – The committee representing people who say they have been sexually assaulted by priests and other members of the Diocese of Norwich has filed a petition in federal bankruptcy court opposing the Catholic Diocese’s attempt to bar victims to file complaints after February 10, 2022.

The Plaintiffs Committee, which is represented by the Bridgeport law firm of Zeisler and Zeisler, wants a window of 120 days from the date on which a plan announcing the deadline, also known as the statute of limitations, is approved by Judge James Tancredi, as opposed to the 90 day window requested by the diocese.

In addition, the committee opposes certain aspects of the claim form that alleged victims must submit, including questions such as whether the victims have ever married, what jobs they have had, and whether they have ever been sexually assaulted by someone. ‘another. He says these are irrelevant to claims of victims of sexual assault by diocesan employees and are designed to limit the diocese’s exposure to damages. In addition, the committee states that they also pose “the very real risk of deterring survivors from submitting claims.”

Tancredi is expected to rule on the issues when he holds a hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The diocese’s public relations firm did not respond to an email requesting comment on the motions.

In July, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 Wisconsin Bankruptcy against more than 60 young men who filed lawsuits accusing them of being raped and sexually assaulted as boys by Christian Brothers and others. members of the staff of the Mount Saint John Academy, operated by the diocese in Deep. River from 1990 to 2002. Mount Saint John was a boarding school for troubled boys with a board of directors headed by retired Bishop of Norwich Daniel Reilly. Since then, others whose sexual assault allegations involved not only Mount Saint John but also diocesan churches have filed claims. The bankruptcy process, which freezes lawsuits against the diocese, will determine the assets of the diocese and how much each victim will receive in damages.

Deadline for filing claims in dispute

Plaintiffs Committee counsel Stephen Kindseth wrote in the petition that claimants, who were minors at the time of the abuse, should be given a reasonable opportunity to learn about the process for submitting an claim and then finding out. fill it out and submit it.

He wrote that additional time is appropriate because the claims of survivors of sexual abuse are “vastly different” from those of commercial creditors in typical bankruptcy cases.

“The nature of the abuse and the social and personal stigma associated with the sexual acts – especially the nature involved in this case – make disclosure of the abuse extremely difficult for survivors. survivors to deal with their abuse in a way that allows them to disclose the details of their claims, ”he wrote.

He pointed out that among 19 similar cases over the past six years, survivors of sexual abuse have had an average of 142 days to submit a claim from the date the judge set a deadline.

Kindseth wrote that the committee also recognizes that legal and financial professionals in the diocese have incurred an “extraordinary amount of fees and expenses to date” and that a slightly extended delay could increase the risk of the diocese incurring further charges. substantial fees and expenses. But he wrote that the diocese’s choice of law firms and the way it handled the case and its expenses “should not justify harming survivors by imposing an unreasonable delay on them to participate in the trial. complaints process “.

A separate petition filed by Kindseth associate Eric Henzy last week severely criticized the fees the diocese has paid to its team of bankruptcy professionals, saying it is rapidly and massively decreasing the assets available to them. victims. The diocese has accumulated more than $ 2.2 million in legal and financial service fees through September 30, with Henzy estimating that an additional $ 400,000 to $ 500,000 has been spent since September 30.

With the diocese spending $ 110,000 a week on legal fees, Henzy filed a petition opposing the extension of the diocese’s bankruptcy deadline. He wrote that at the rate at which the team of the diocese consumes its goods, the file and the goods must be withdrawn from the hands of the diocese as soon as possible.

Questions criticized by the victims committee

Although Kindseth wrote that the Applicants Committee agrees that some additional specific questions should be included in the Proof of Claim form to establish a sexual abuse claim, “the multiple questions essentially requiring the disclosure of who, what, when and where as well as the extent of the harm caused will simply and fairly take a long time for each survivor to remember,
understand and articulate in writing. He said the diocese would like to ask the additional questions to learn more about the personal lives of the victims with the aim of developing arguments to limit the damages the diocese owes them.

“To require such disclosures as a condition of the prima facia establishment of their substantive claims in this bankruptcy case is contrary to the proof of claim process, completely unfair to survivors who may not understand the legal consequences involved and will almost certainly serve to discourage survivors from fully submitting claims, ”he wrote in the motion.

The question concerns the marital status of the victims and whether they have ever been married or have children, what school they attended and the diplomas or degrees they received, whether they served in the armed forces, where they are. employees, their work history, their current or past affiliation with a religious organization and whether they have been involved in any other incidents of sexual abuse other than those they allege in their application.

The questions are similar to detailed questions asked by lawyers defending the diocese in previous trials of those who say they were sexually assaulted by diocesan priests. These questions went much deeper into a victim’s background and were criticized by victims’ counsel as being asked to discourage victims from suing.

Kindseth wrote that the claim form “repeatedly warns” that failure to complete the form may result in victims inability to receive compensation. He further wrote that the diocese and its insurer, Catholic Mutual, are looking for evidence to minimize the effect of the abuse on the lives of victims or identify another cause for the damage they are claiming.

“Compensation owed to a survivor of sexual abuse as a minor while in the care of a member of the clergy should not be reduced depending on whether he or she has, later in life, been in the care of a member of the clergy. school, served in the armed forces, got a job, got married or had children. , or if he had been sexually abused separately, “he wrote.

No more publicity needed on filing complaints

The applicants’ committee maintains that the diocese should extend publicity of the bankruptcy and the deadline beyond newspapers in the region. He recommended that it be published in the Providence Journal and the Four County Catholic, a diocesan publication. The motion also asks Tancredi to demand and not just ask all diocesan parishes to post the notice and publish it in their bulletins and bulletins.

Kindseth also classified the diocese’s plan to publish the first notification no later than 45 days before the deadline and the second no later than 30 days as “woefully inadequate.” He wrote that the purpose of the claims period would be jeopardized if he did not publish it before 45 days remained. He also wrote that the notice should be published weekly for the entire period and also be written in Spanish, as many Spanish speaking boys frequented Mount Saint John. In addition, he said press releases on the claims process should be sent to all local radio and television stations.

You can find information on bankruptcy and filing claims at dm.epiq11.com/case/rcdn/info.

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