Buffalo diocese seeks permanent injunction of abuse lawsuits

shutterstock 761773747 The exterior of the New York Supreme Court. | elbud/Shutterstock

The diocese of Buffalo is asking a federal court to halt all outstanding clergy sex abuse litigation against it as it navigates bankruptcy proceedings.

In a motion filed in federal bankruptcy court on Saturday, the diocese is seeking an injunction on the progress of all child sex abuse lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act (CVA). The diocese has been named in more than 250 such lawsuits.

Once the diocese filed for bankruptcy, all the CVA lawsuits in which it was named a defendant were moved into bankruptcy court and permanently stopped from moving forward. 

However, its bankruptcy proceedings have only temporarily halted the CVA lawsuits against smaller entities named as co-respondents, such as parishes and parochial schools, which have not themselves declared bankruptcy. Such cases could be moved back into the state supreme court against the co-defendants at the end of bankruptcy proceedings, and the diocese is seeking a permanent injunction on litigating these cases in order to reach a "global resolution" for all cases.

Greg Tucker, a spokesman for the diocese, told CNA on Monday that the diocese is looking "to provide the same 'breathing spell' for parishes, schools and other Catholic entities in the hopes of achieving a global resolution" for all the cases, rather than "piecemeal litigation."

Tucker added that continued litigation would deplete the diocese's shared insurance reserves, affecting future settlements available to survivors.

Steve Boyd, an attorney representing abuse survivors in some of the CVA cases against the diocese, said on Sunday that by filing for an injunction on all cases, the diocese was trying to prevent survivors having their day in court.

"This is another legal financial maneuver by the diocese designed to keep juries from hearing what the priests and bishops did, and what they failed to do to protect kids," Boyd said in a video posted on Facebook on Sunday.

The diocese has been named in more than 250 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act which created a one-year "lookback" window for child sex abuse lawsuits.

The window, which began in August of 2019, allows a year-long period for lawsuits to be filed in cases of alleged child sex abuse where the statute of limitations had already expired.

In February, already facing hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits, the diocese filed for bankruptcy.

As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, the diocese cut off around two dozen accused priests from financial assistance and health benefits on May 1; the priests had "substantiated" allegations of the sexual abuse of children and had been removed from active ministry, but had not been laicized, leaving the diocese with a canonical obligation to provide for their basic sustenance.

In its filing for a stay, the diocese argued that it would not be regarded as distinct from the parishes and schools in court, and that it "is the real target defendant in the CVA cases."

The "core allegations" in the lawsuits that were filed against parishes or schools "make no distinction" between their actions and those of the diocese, the motion stated. Furthermore, "moving forward" with the cases "would force the Diocese to participate in each CVA Case to the detriment of its estate's assets and the reorganization process."

"Continuing the CVA Cases during the pendency of this Chapter 11 Case will be burdensome on the Diocese and will disrupt the administration and expeditious reorganization of the Diocese's estate to the detriment of all creditors," the motion stated.

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