Deadline for Maryland Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Claims Approaching on Friday, Due to Bankruptcy Filing

Although the state legislature recently removed the Maryland child sexual abuse lawsuit statute of limitations, survivors still face a May 31st deadline to file claims against the Archdiocese of Baltimore under a bankruptcy order

Survivors of child sexual abuse through the Maryland Catholic Church have until Friday to file a civil claim against the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which declared bankruptcy last year as it faced a flood of litigation under a new Maryland law that allows lawsuits to be filed, regardless of how long ago the assault occured.

Hundreds of individuals have stepped forward to seek damages from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, since the Maryland Child Victims Act went into effect at the beginning of October 2023. The law removed all statute of limitations deadlines from Maryland child sex assault lawsuits, providing survivors a path to hold their abusers and the entities that enabled the conduct accountable for damages.

However, after the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to the massive amount of litigation it faces because of the new law, the court established a claims bar date of May 31, 2024, for any claims to be presented against the entity.

The law was approved by Maryland lawmakers in April 2023, just days after a Maryland Catholic Church 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 associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.

Since its passage, a flood of lawsuits have been filed, with many of those cases aimed against the Catholic church, However, similar complaints have been filed against various Maryland private schools, the state’s juvenile justice system and other individuals responsible for exposing children to known sexual predators, even when the assaults occurred decades ago.

To date, the Baltimore archdiocese faces about 320 lawsuits. However, several hundred additional claims are likely to be filed before the bankruptcy deadline later this week, with some predictions indicating there could be more than 1,000 cases filed by May 31.

Following the submittal of all lawsuits, the next phase of the bankruptcy process will involve mediation to determine how much the church will have to pay to resolve the sex abuse claims. Those mediations are anticipated to begin sometime this summer. Once that phase is complete, a committee representing the survivors will determine how to categorize the claims, which all the survivors will be able to vote on before approval.

Maryland Child Victims Act Challenged

Despite its passage and having already gone into effect, a number of those who face child abuse lawsuits as a result of the new Maryland law are challenging its constitutionality, claiming that removal of the statute of limitations violates due process protections.

The Maryland act includes a provision that allows an interlocutory appeal to be immediately pursued following any order denying a motion to dismiss based on a defense that the Maryland statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislative action reviving the claim is unconstitutional.

An interlocutory appeal allows the higher courts to consider the case before any final judgment is rendered in the trial court. While this measure will introduce substantial delays before survivors of sexual abuse are able to obtain justice, it will also avoid the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.

The state has been prepared for such a challenge since the law was originally passed, and Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown vowed to defend the state law’s constitutionality. Brown’s office has filed a brief in support of the law early challenges.

At least two judges have already called for constitutionality challenges to the new law to be expedited to the Maryland Supreme Court, in order to have a ruling on the law’s legality as soon as possible.

Observers believe that the Maryland Supreme Court may hear the appeal before the end of the year.

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