Syracuse Diocese Declares Bankruptcy

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by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 22, 2020   

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Facing dozens of child sex abuse lawsuits, the scandal-ridden diocese of Syracuse filed for bankruptcy on June 19, according to the filing with the federal court's Northern District of New York.

The diocese estimates that it has "a total of roughly $37.7 million in assets" and "about $37.8 million in liabilities," according to the bankruptcy petition.

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Bishop Douglas J. Lucia

of Syracuse

There could be more potential liabilities added "in excess of tens of millions of dollars relating to the contingent claims arising under the New York Child Victims Act (CVA)," according to one source.

On June 17, attorneys for Jeff Anderson and Associates and LaFave Wein & Frament filed 32 lawsuits against the diocese, accusing former members of its clergy for sexually abusing children.

"Today marks a turning point," said attorney Cynthia LaFave. "[The survivors'] voices and stories will begin, finally, to be heard."

Among the complaints are four priests who have been publicly identified for the first time, all for abuse cases in New York state:

  • Father James A. Culver, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1969–1971 at St. John in North Bay and St. Mary in Verona Beach
  • Father William J. Kiefer, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1945–1946 at St. Paul Parish in Oswego
  • Father L. Peter Paige, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1969–1970 at Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Syracuse
  • Father Joseph M. Ploeckl, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1970–1971 at St. Mary in Utica

Three complaints name Father Edward C. Madore, who has already been implicated in two previous lawsuits filed by the firms and whose whereabouts are unknown.

The diocese estimates that it has 'a total of roughly $37.7 million in assets' and 'about $37.8 million in liabilities.'

Chastising the diocese that is duty-bound to protect children, LaFave said in a press release, "For decades the diocese has possessed knowledge that could have prevented an untold number of horrors against children.”

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Describing the diocese's decision to declare bankruptcy as "strategic, cowardly and wholly self-serving," the lawyer added, "Bankruptcy can limit survivors' ability to unearth names and information regarding predator priests; expose the top officials who covered up for the sexually abusive clergy; and bring to light what these officials knew and when they knew it."

By contrast, the lawyers spoke of the courage of the survivors and their pursuit of justice: "The courageous survivors who have brought suit ... are shining a light on truths that have been shrouded in secrecy for decades," said attorney Jeff Anderson. "We are grateful to stand with these survivors as they pursue justice and accountability."

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Cynthia LaFave

"Each case we're filing is representative of the immeasurable courage of an individual survivor of egregious abuse," said LaFave. "Collectively, these survivors have suffered in silence and without justice for far too long." 

The 32 lawsuits were filed under the Child Victim's Act (CVA). The lawyers commended Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order extending the CVA deadline by five months and, more recently, New York legislators' unanimous approval of a one-year extension. 

"We applaud Gov. Cuomo's decision to give survivors of child sexual abuse more time to come forward and file their cases during these unprecedented and difficult times," said attorney Jeff Anderson. 

Another attorney representing the survivors, Taylor Stippel, encouraged other survivors to come forward before the deadline: "As of right now, fewer than two months remain until the CVA deadline of Aug. 13. For those out there who are thinking about coming forward, now is the time to share your truth."

As of June 2020, 27 Catholic religious organizations in toto have sought bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. Nineteen cases have concluded. Eight cases are pending, according to the Pennsylvania Law eLibrary.

As of right now, fewer than two months remain until the CVA deadline of Aug. 13. For those out there who are thinking about coming forward, now is the time to share your truth.

In New York, two dioceses — the diocese of Rochester in September 2019 and the diocese of Buffalo in February 2020 — have already filed for bankruptcy. Many observers expect the dioceses of Albany and Rockville Center to follow suit.

"Each survivor we represent makes for one less story left untold," said LaFave. "Ultimately, these survivors are more empowered and determined to effect change and to protect future generations than the diocese possibly could be in [the diocese's] continued efforts to suppress information for the sake of their status quo."

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