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Bankruptcy judge sets deadline for filing clergy abuse claims against diocese

Bankruptcy judge sets deadline for filing clergy abuse claims against diocese

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The headquarters of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Main Street. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Sexual abuse victims will have until next August to file a claim against the Buffalo Diocese in federal bankruptcy proceedings.

Chief Judge Carl L. Bucki of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of New York ruled Friday that the bar date for abuse victims to submit claims should be the same day that the extended Child Victims Act expires – Aug. 14, 2021.

Bucki also ruled against a request by the diocese to push the bankruptcy proceedings into mediated settlement talks.

Bucki said in his written ruling that such negotiations among the diocese, its insurers and its creditors would be premature because the diocese doesn’t know the full nature and extent of the abuse claims being brought against it and has yet to fully investigate and document historical insurance policies that were in place and might provide coverage on the claims.

The diocese earlier had sued eight insurance carriers in bankruptcy court, and Bucki’s decision means the litigation will move forward. The judge said he aimed to “advance essential exchanges of information” by ordering discovery to proceed, and he warned both parties that “now is not the time to procrastinate in working for a just and fair resolution of rights.”

The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late February, and abuse victims and their attorneys have expressed concern that the process could take years to resolve.

The diocese’s lawyers had asked Bucki to set the bar date for Jan. 15, 2021, while lawyers for a committee of unsecured creditors made up of abuse victims argued that the date should be Aug. 14, 2020, so that any victims who come forward are not confused by different deadlines for filing either a Child Victims Act lawsuit in state court or a claim against the diocese in bankruptcy court.

The Child Victims Act in 2019 opened a one-year window that suspended the civil statute of limitations in childhood sex abuse cases and allowed victims to file lawsuits, even if the abuse was alleged to have happened decades ago. After state courts were largely closed for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation in August extending the Child Victims Act by another year.

By making the bankruptcy claim bar date coincide with the filing deadline for a CVA lawsuit, “we terminate no rights that a plaintiff could otherwise have asserted outside of bankruptcy,” said Bucki.

The diocese will be required to give notice of the bar date through mailings, publications and postings, and victims will have to submit a proof of claim form.

Nearly 400 CVA lawsuits have been filed against the diocese and other Catholic entities in Western New York, including parishes and schools. Diocese attorneys have said they anticipate at least that many claims will be submitted to the bankruptcy court.

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My byline has run in the Ithaca Journal, USA Today, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the New York Times. I have been a staff reporter at The Buffalo News since 2002 and currently am part of the watchdog team.

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