New Maryland Child Sex Abuse Law Has Baltimore Archdiocese Considering Bankruptcy
With a new law set to go into effect next month, which removes any statute of limitations for Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Baltimore indicates that it is now considering filing for bankruptcy protections.
The Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 allows survivors of sexual abuse as children to pursue legal claims against their abusers and any institutions that enabled the conduct, regardless of how long ago the assault occurred.
While variations of the new law have been working through the state’s legislature for years, it was finalized in April, just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General.
The report 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.
Although the Maryland Catholic Church has previously indicated it intends to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, in a letter to parishioners issued on September 5, William E. Lori, the Archbishop of Baltimore, warned that the Baltimore Archdiocese will not likely be able to afford the legal costs it will face after the new law goes into effect on October 1.
If challenges to the constitutionality of the Maryland child sex abuse law are unsuccessful, the Baltimore Archdiocese is likely to face thousands of lawsuits for protecting priests that were known predators, and continuing to provide them access to vulnerable children for decades.
“With the passage of the new law, there is a high likelihood that the Archdiocese will face multiple lawsuits, the number of which is hard to predict. Litigating them individually would potentially lead to some very high damage awards for a very small number of victim-survivors while leaving almost nothing for the vast majority of them,” Lori wrote. “The Archdiocese simply does not have unlimited resources to satisfy such claims; its assets are indeed finite.”
Lori said bankruptcy may be the church’s only option, which would allow it to reorganize in a way that both pays restitution to survivors of abuse perpetrated by the church’s priests, volunteers and employees, while continuing to provide services to its members.
Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023
For years, lawmakers attempted to change the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations, which currently prevents 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.
The Maryland Child Victims Act includes a provision that an interlocutory appeal may 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.
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