Baltimore Archdiocese Faces More than 700 Child Sex Abuse Claims After Bankruptcy Deadline Passes

The Catholic Church organization estimates it could face between $500 million and $1 billion in liability from child sex abuse lawsuits in Maryland.

Hundreds of claims have been presented against the Baltimore Archdiocese following the passage of a new law, which eliminated the statute of limitation for the filing of child sexual assault lawsuits in Maryland, clearing the way for individuals to pursue damages from entities that enabled predators to abuse children, regardless of how long ago the incidents occurred.

Just before the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 went into effect last October, the Archdiocese of Baltimore declared bankruptcy in anticipation of the child sex abuse lawsuits, which required all potential claimants to file notice of their claim in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland by May 31, 2024.

According to a report by The Baltimore Sun, at least 700 claims were filed by the deadline last Friday, with some complaints still yet to be counted as of that time.

Many of these childhood sexual abuse claims were previously barred by the Maryland statute of limitations. However, since it often takes survivors decades to come forward and address what happened to them as children, the new law removed any time constraints on bringing childhood sex abuse lawsuits in Maryland, clearing the way for compensation to be pursued from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Catholic Church, and other institutions.

The Maryland Child Victim’s Act was passed by the state legislature shortly after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese sexual abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General in April 2023, outlining the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others affiliated with the Catholic Church who had been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses of abusing children.

Although the Maryland statute of limitations was removed by the legislature, the bankruptcy filing by the Baltimore Archdiocese created a new deadline for individuals to submit notice of their claim against the organization, which many critics have pointed out unfairly caps the amount of damages survivors may be able to receive.

The organization’s assets are valued between $100 million and $500 million, and the aArchdiocese estimates it faces between $500 million to $1 billion in liabilities related to child sex abuse claims.

“We expect that our reorganization will involve several steps over the next two to three years,” said Archbishop William E. Lori at the time of the bankruptcy filing, indicating that the process would include a limited period of time for survivors to present claims. “The Archdiocese and victim-survivors will then enter negotiations with the hope of agreeing to a plan that includes a trust fund to provide compensation. If a plan is approved by the bankruptcy court, no future claims for past cases of abuse can be brought against the Church.”

The Baltimore Sun notes that not all of the lawsuits were related to child abuse, with some claims filed by insurance companies and others who claim the church owes them a debt. However, the vast majority of claims are believed to involve survivors of church-related child sexual assaults. The report indicates it may be as long as two weeks before a final tally of the claims is completed.

Impact of Baltimore Archdiocese Bankruptcy

In the face of growing civil lawsuits, particularly those centered around accusations of widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, large organizations and corporations have historically turned to bankruptcy as a strategy to mitigate reputational damage and circumvent the victims’ ability to present their cases before a jury in trial courts.

This approach has several implications for victims that stretch beyond just when, where and how they must file their claims for sexual abuse as a child. Typically, the bankruptcy process provides a far less transparent forum for these survivors of sexual abuse to seek justice and closure.

Unlike a civil trial, where detailed testimonies and evidence are presented openly, bankruptcy court discussions can restrict the details that emerge. This controlled environment can prevent the public airing of detailed allegations and testimonies that could further harm the Archdiocese’s reputation.

The court proceedings will primarily focus on the financial reorganization of the Archdiocese to ensure equitable distribution of available assets to all creditors, including abuse victims. Unlike the traditional civil procedure for abuse claims, this places the focus on the assets and liabilities of the Archdiocese rather than on the merit of the victims’ claims or providing a platform for their stories to be heard.

In addition to side-stepping the intentions of the Child Victims Act to allow survivors the time they need to decide they are ready to come forward, the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy filing could also have significant impacts on settlement awards provided to claimants.

When the state of Maryland passed the Child Victims Act, one of the significant changes made to Maryland’s law was the increase in damages a victim could receive. Outlined in the Act, victims are now allowed to receive up to $1.5 million in non-economic damages for sex abuse claims against the Catholic Church and other private institutions.

With the claims now being forced to proceed through bankruptcy proceedings rather than traditional civil litigation, claims will not be assessed on their own merits in civil court. Rather, all claims are typically pooled together and addressed collectively through the bankruptcy process aimed at establishing a structured settlement, which could fail to fully account for the individual damages and suffering of each victim.

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