The Diocese of Rockville Centre on Friday proposed a settlement of up to $200 million to be paid to hundreds of survivors of clergy sex abuse as it works toward emerging from bankruptcy.
Attorneys for survivors denounced the proposal as too little and said the diocese was not being transparent about its finances in papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. A week ago, lawyers for clergy sexual abuse survivors proposed a settlement in which the diocese would pay at least $450 million to victims.
The diocesan proposal calls for paying the survivors as a group a total of $185 million to $200 million, not including funds that could also come from insurance companies and could be hundreds of millions more.
“The Diocese believes the plan is the best means to efficiently and effectively pave the way for compensating survivors and emerging from bankruptcy,” the diocese said in a statement. It added: “Survivors deserve and expect a settlement now and [the diocese] hopes that all parties can work together to complete this equitable and unprecedented settlement offer.”
Some 620 childhood survivors of clergy sex abuse are affected by the negotiations, which have been going on since October 2020, when the diocese declared bankruptcy.
In court papers filed Friday, the diocese asserted that under one possible scenario, survivors could receive an estimated $370,000 to $400,000 each, not including payouts from third-party insurance companies.
The diocese argued that would be about triple the amount paid out to survivors from other dioceses that have gone through similar bankruptcies.
Paul Mones, a Los Angeles-based attorney for some of the survivors, said the proposed settlement is low, given that the diocese is one of the largest and wealthiest in the nation.
The diocese, for instance, pegs the contribution of its 134 parishes to the settlement at $11 million, he said.
“It’s ridiculous given the vast, vast resources that the parishes and diocese own,” he said.
He also said the proposal will likely lead to more extended court battles, which have already racked up a total of $56 million in attorneys’ fees on both sides.
Jason Amala, a Manhattan-based attorney representing 26 of the survivors, said the proposed plan does not disclose the wealth of the diocese and each of its parishes, leaving survivors unable to say whether a settlement is fair.
The survivors filed lawsuits against the diocese under the 2019 Child Victims Act, which during a two-year “look back window” allowed people to sue the church, schools and other institutions regardless of how long ago the alleged sexual abuse took place.
Some of the diocesan cases go as far back as 1957, the year it was founded, according to court papers.
Both sides on Friday accused the other of dragging out negotiations on the settlement.
“The alternative litigation path advocated by the” survivors “will take years, and wastefully drain resources that would otherwise be directed toward compensating survivors,” said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese.
“The litigation path also jeopardizes the common good of Long Island, particularly for those families that depend on the diocese to deliver compassionate health care, housing, education, food security, substance abuse, mental health and grief counseling, immigration services, religious and spiritual care,” he said.
But attorneys for the survivors said it was the diocese that is stonewalling the case, and noted that the bulk of attorneys’ fees have been charged by lawyers for the church.
The diocese “is attempting to bully survivors into submission,” said James Stang, the main lawyer representing the survivors, known as the Unsecured Creditors Committee.
Some of the settlement money would come from sources such as the sale of the diocesan headquarters for $5.2 million, the court papers stated.
The diocese has already paid out $62 million to about 350 other survivors under a separate diocesan program that began in 2017.
Lawyers for the survivors said those payments and the proposed settlement are low compared with other cases. A 2007 case involving a youth minister who allegedly sexually abused two minors at St. Raphael’s parish in East Meadow ended with an $11.45 million jury award to the victims, said Mones, who handled the case along with attorney Michael Dowd.
Bart Jones has covered religion, immigration and major breaking news at Newsday since 2000. A former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in Venezuela, he is the author of “HUGO! The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution.”View news article Opens in a new window