A trustee for the federal bankruptcy court has selected seven people suing the Buffalo Diocese over clergy sexual abuse to serve on a creditors committee that will investigate the diocese's finances and negotiate a bankruptcy settlement.
U.S. Trustee William K. Harrington interviewed at least 20 people for seven spots on the committee, which will represent all unsecured creditors and play a major role in formulating a reorganization plan for the diocese.
“It’s a very important group. They will have a substantial amount of meetings to discuss the future of the Diocese of Buffalo and what the Diocese of Buffalo has to provide in terms of finances and documents so that victims can feel validated,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents several dozen clients suing the diocese under the Child Victims Act.
A Garabedian client who alleged being abused by the Rev. John Aurelio in the late 1960s when he was 11 or 12 was among those selected to serve on the committee, along with people who alleged molestations by the Rev. Fred Fingerle, the Rev. Gerald Jasinski, and former Immaculata Academy teacher Michael W. McGuire.
Harrington spent most of Thursday asking applicants inside Olympic Towers why they wanted to be on the committee and how they could contribute.
The committee is charged with investigating the diocese and its assets, liabilities and operations, as well as claims made against the diocese, and then ultimately negotiating a settlement.
The committee of five men and two women met for the first time Thursday and named two co-chairs. Committee members also voted unanimously to retain James I. Stang of the Los Angeles firm Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones and Scott Bogucki of Buffalo-based Gleichenhaus, Marchese and Wesihaar as legal representation.
The bankruptcy court must approve the hires. Stang has represented creditors committees in more than a dozen previous diocese bankruptcy proceedings nationwide. He’s currently also representing the creditors committee in the Rochester Diocese bankruptcy.
“Our primary focus right now will be to try to get an understanding of the assets of the diocese and work on getting claim forms approved so that creditors can start filing abuse claims because ultimately the diocese and the committee need to understand the number of claims, the scope of the claims and open up discussions with insurance carriers and with the diocese itself,” said Stang.
Once the court signs off on a claim form, anyone who wants to bring a childhood sex abuse claim against the diocese will need to complete the form and submit it to the bankruptcy court. That includes plaintiffs who already sued the diocese in State Supreme Court prior to the bankruptcy filing on Feb. 28.
“They still have to file a claim form in bankruptcy court,” said Stang.
Diocese officials said in court papers they expect at least 400 claims to be filed.
The Child Victims Act opened a one-year window last August allowing child sex abuse victims to sue in civil court, no matter how long ago the abuse was alleged to have happened.
The Buffalo Diocese has been named as a defendant in more than 250 Child Victims Act lawsuits. Diocese officials have said the only way to address the claims equitably while still carrying on the mission of the church was to reorganize through Chapter 11.
The diocese looks forward to working with the creditors committee, said spokesman Greg Tucker.