Archdiocese of Baltimore Clergy Abuse Claims Must Be Filed By May 31 Under Bankruptcy Court Order
A federal judge is giving survivors of Maryland clergy abuse until May 31 to submit any claims against the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of a new law in the state, which removed the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits against the Catholic Church and other organizations that enabled the sexual abuse of children.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy at the end of September, following passage of the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 in April, which went into effect at the beginning of October. The law removes all statute of limitations restrictions on civil claims involving sexual abuse of children in the state, and the Catholic church was expected to weather the brunt of the expected litigation.
In a letter to church members written at the time, Archbishop William E. Lori directly linked the church’s bankruptcy filing to the anticipated cost of defending itself against what is expected to be a flood of lawsuits.
The Maryland state legislature passed the Child Victims Act just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General, which detailed information about Catholic priests that abused children in Maryland over the last 60 years, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.
In November, the Maryland Catholic Church and other organizations now facing Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits took steps to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, but that process could take months or even years. If the law is upheld, the Baltimore Archdiocese faced the prospect of thousands of lawsuits that may be filed for years, over prior decisions to protect priests who were known predators, and allow them to have continued access to vulnerable young children.
Judge Sets Deadline for Sex Abuse Claim Filings Against Archdiocese
At a hearing held on Monday, Judge Michelle Harner, of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland, set a claims bar date of May 31, 2024, which serves as a deadline for any survivors to file claims with the bankruptcy court against the assets of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The deadline is several months longer than requested by the Church, which sought to require all claims to be presented by February 26. This would have given plaintiffs only about 150 days after the church’s bankruptcy filing. The new date, agreed to by both sides, gives them 245 days to file in total.
The Baltimore Archdiocese bankruptcy filing indicates the organization’s assets are valued between $100 million and $500 million. However, the church estimates it faces between $500 million to $1 billion in liabilities.
Judge Harner is expected to issue a formal ruling in the days ahead. She is also expected to approve a finalized claim form and the process for joining the litigation.
Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023
For years, lawmakers attempted to change the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations, which previously prevented most survivors from pursuing lawsuits.
Supporters of the legislation argued that removing the Maryland statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims was necessary, since many survivors are not prepared to address the conduct until much later in life. In addition, the Catholic Church has been notorious for covering up credible allegations, discrediting child survivors of abuse and pressuring devoted families from pursuing any action against priests or other members of the clergy.
After a two year window in the New York child sex abuse statute of limitations was opened in 2020, tens of thousands of claims were brought against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other entitles throughout the state. The Buffalo Diocese alone had at least 230 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, with eight specific priests accounting for more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
While statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of other states, including New Jersey, California and Louisiana, other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.
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