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ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, New York is begging a judge for a timeout from the tsunami of nearly 100 pending clergy sexual abuse cases, saying otherwise it will have to declare bankruptcy.
Rockville Centre is one of the largest dioceses in the nation, serving approximately 1.4 million Catholics. It is the latest New York diocese to be in, or close to, bankruptcy. Within the last year, both the dioceses of Rochester and Buffalo have become Chapter 11 debtors, and now Rockville Centre appears to be not far behind.
The dioceses of New York feared this legal and financial reckoning would one day arrive, which is why they fought to defeat the state's Child Victims Act (CVA). The New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) never supported the CVA, but the group did ultimately drop its opposition in January 2019.
The organization refused to endorse the legislation because it did not want New York's statute of limitations extended, allowing abuse cases from the more-distant past to proceed. Plus, it favored legislation with a preference for mediation over litigation. According to reporting in the Daily News, the bishops' chief fear was having to provide records as part of a lawsuit's discovery process, a requirement that could potentially be avoided in mediation.
Even though the NYSCC dropped their opposition and the CVA passed, the Rockville Centre diocese has continued to fight against victims' call for justice. For example, once the law went into effect and close to 100 new lawsuits were filed, the diocese sought to dismiss approximately one-third of them. The court denied the diocese's request, which prompted the current petition for a stay and the threat that without it, the diocese would proceed into bankruptcy.
A stay of proceedings is a judicial ruling that halts further legal process in a trial or legal proceeding and that is sometimes used to postpone proceedings indefinitely.
That's what New York attorney Michael Dowd thinks is going on. Dowd, who is representing some of the abuse victims, has been litigating abuse cases for 25 years. He believes both the stay and the diocese's threat of bankruptcy are nothing more than delay tactics to deny injured parties justice along with their rightful compensation.
Dowd, who won an $11 million case against the diocese of Rockville Centre in 2007, told Church Militant in an exclusive interview that every move the diocese makes is designed "to cheat survivors and frighten parishioners."
After years of observing how the Catholic hierarchy maneuvers in matters such as these, Dowd says parishioners are told that church properties are at risk unless bankruptcy is declared. But Dowd tells Church Militant he can't think of an instance in which church property was actually liquidated to satisfy a judgment. "The key is to probe the assets to get beyond what the diocese says." He goes on, "I think they [the Catholic Church] have assets that nobody knows about."
Dowd believes that in the discovery process, the dioceses deliberately fail to fully disclose assets. "I wouldn't trust these people as far as I could throw the Empire State Building."
One of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the world is representing the diocese of Rockville Centre. Dowd estimates the diocese is being billed at a rate in the $2,000 per-hour range. Dowd explained the exorbitant fees: "At any one time, there will be a couple of lawyers, a legal assistant, maybe other staff working on the case." Jones Day is a true legal goliath: The firm has 43 offices in 19 countries, spread over five continents.
Holding nothing back, Dowd observed, "The fierceness and viciousness with which the lawyers for the dioceses conduct these cases" is beyond belief. "There is no sense that they [the diocese] ever did anything wrong."
Dowd assesses that there is little legal support for the diocese's request for a stay. But, as he wryly observes, "Every scam has a chance for success."
The diocese of Rockville Centre was contacted for comment but as of press time had not responded.