CAMDEN – The Diocese of Camden is facing 345 new complaints of alleged clergy sexual abuse in its ongoing bankruptcy case, according to lawyers involved in the dispute.
The claims are currently at the start of a mediation process as the two sides are also battling in U.S. bankruptcy court, lawyers for the clergy accusers have said.
“Accurate bookkeeping and inventorying of all cases will be required before meaningful settlement discussions can be undertaken,” said John Baldante, a lawyer for Haddonfield who filed 70 of the claims.
Among other factors, parties to mediation must identify “the insurance coverage of the past decades applicable to such sexual abuse,” Baldante said.
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“There is still an important work to define the goods of the diocese, as well as its many parishes, churches, schools and entities”, he noted.
The diocese cited the financial impact of sexual abuse complaints as the main reason for its decision to seek creditors’ protection in October 2020.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan said at the time that the diocese paid more than $ 8 million to settle 71 claims before withdrawing three months earlier from a national fund established for victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy.
He said the diocese was facing more than 50 sexual abuse lawsuits at the time of its bankruptcy filing.
The bishop also noted the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it had reduced contributions from parishioners as the diocese needed to serve more people in need.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the diocese said it “takes every complaint seriously and is carefully reviewing all complaints.”
“The diocese seeks to provide fair and equitable compensation to survivors as part of the Chapter 11 reorganization process and hopes the court will review its reorganization plan as quickly as possible,” he added.
The documents, known as the Proof of Claim, aim to establish the alleged survivors as creditors of the diocese.
Their content is not publicly available, said Jeff Anderson, an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota, whose firm has filed 67 claims.
U.S. bankruptcy judge Jerrold Poslusny Jr., who hears the Chapter 11 case in Camden, had asked the survivors to file any new claims against the diocese by the June 30 deadline.
“These victims and survivors have a right to a account,” said Baldante, who said the accusers “will fight tenaciously and relentlessly until their voices are heard.”
Lawyers are currently clashing over the diocese’s desire to settle two survivor claims outside the mediation process.
Creditors’ committee lawyer Jeffrey Prol of Roseland, Essex County, argued in a court filing that the diocese could unfairly use these settlements “as a barometer on which to judge the value of other claims of survivors “.
He called the settlements “ill-advised” and said they “appeared to be based on an incomplete understanding of the (diocese), its assets and its insurance claims.”
Anderson argued that the tactic reflected a harsh approach to survivor claims by the diocese.
“I see Camden, his bishop and his lawyers as having deployed the most outrageously aggressive strategies,” said Anderson.
He claimed the diocese had undervalued its assets in a bid to cut compensation for survivors and claimed its initial reorganization plan – rejected by Poslusny – would only have provided $ 10 million to be shared by hundreds. potential victims of sexual abuse.
“Everything they have done is not only unprecedented, but extremely hurtful to the survivors,” Anderson said.
Diocesan lawyer Richard Trenk of Livingston, Essex County, dismissed the arguments, insisting the creditors committee was using “delaying tactics that stem only from their fear that settlements might influence value. other complaints “.
Trenk also said a multi-year payment plan for the disputed settlements would increase the resources available for the claims of other survivors.
“From the outset of this matter, the diocese has clearly and steadfastly sought to fairly treat and compensate the survivor … abuse complaints,” Trenk said in an Aug. 6 petition in bankruptcy court.
The diocese – the only one in New Jersey to seek reorganization – serves about 486,000 Catholics in six counties in southern Jersey.
Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development, and other topics for the Courier-Post, the Burlington County Times, and the Daily Journal.
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