BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Diocese of Buffalo has offered $100 million, in addition to any insurance funds, to settle hundreds of abuse cases.
The Diocese said it would likely need to sell its 795 Main Street headquarters in downtown Buffalo, the former Christ the King Seminary campus in East Aurora, and other “non-essential” property to cover about half of the settlement.
The other half would come from “non-debtor Related Entities” in its Catholic community, including from parishes, other affiliated Catholic entities, in addition to any insurance assets, which attorneys for the Diocese believe could add millions more to the settlement.
“We want to illustrate our good faith to the court and to the public with making this initial offer of $100 million that would originate from the Catholic Community including the Diocese, parishes and affiliated Catholic entities,” a Diocese spokesman said. “The parish contribution would not come from offertory, but from parish reserves.”
While offertory is a source of reserve funds for parishes, the Diocese said reserves are also built from parish real estate sales, long-range capital campaigns, investments and cemetery income.
News 4 obtained an internal Q&A that the Diocese provided to parishes, which states that contributions from parishes will not be based on the number of claims, but rather on their ability to pay.
The internal document states that the Diocese plans to solicit contributions from religious orders, affiliated ministries, and schools. The only resources that the Diocese said are off the table would be “donor restricted assets”, which are gifts that must be used for specific purposes.
The offer, which was made in a court filing Monday night and first reported by The Buffalo News, also included a request by the Diocese for a preliminary injunction to block plaintiffs from pursuing their claims against non-bankrupt Catholic entities, such as the parishes.
“Litigation against the Related Entities will be highly disruptive to the course of mediation, will likely slow the progress of this Case, will be a huge drain on the resources of the Diocese, and will diminish the ability of the Related Entities to contribute to a survivor trist under a chapter 11 plan,” Diocesan attorneys stated in the motion.
But the Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents the plaintiffs, has argued that allowing litigation against non-bankrupt parishes would help resolve the case and likely lead to the Diocese and insurers paying larger sums.
Some attorneys representing plaintiffs quickly criticized the Diocese for attempting to “silence” survivors by again trying to block their clients from suing parishes.
“There’s no such thing as ‘sort of’ bankrupt,” said Steve Boyd, an attorney who represents dozens of survivors. “The Diocese wants its affiliated entities to have the protection of bankruptcy without the legal responsibilities of bankruptcy. It’s time to let juries decide these cases.”
Stacey Benson, also an attorney for plaintiffs, said the, “Diocese is more concerned about bottom lines and bank statements than they are about survivors.”
“It’s never been more apparent that when push comes to shove, their true priorities are themselves,” Benson said.
The announcement posted on the Diocese’s website Tuesday; an official announcement to parishioners will be made at this weekend’s masses.
The door for survivors to sue was opened in 2019 when state lawmakers passed the Child Victims Act, which temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for sexual abuse allegations.
A year later, the Diocese filed for bankruptcy, which is a common move by Dioceses confronted with clergy sexual abuse scandals.
Since then, plaintiffs have filed more than 800 sexual abuse cases against the Diocese of Buffalo.
The Diocese stated in the court filing that there have been at least a dozen sessions with mediators, but no agreement has been reached.
“While the Diocese submits that some progress toward a settlement has been made, the parties have not yet been able to achieve a global settlement that would serve as a basis for a successful Chapter 11 plan,” Diocese attorney wrote in a motion. “The Diocese points out that substantive mediation has been ongoing for less than nine months at this point.”
In the court filing, the Buffalo Diocese stated that, “substantially all its unrestricted liquid assets, and the value of any of its real estate that will not be critical to the ministries of the reorganized Diocese, are likely ‘on the table’ to be committed to any settlement.”
But the lack of a settlement over the years has “perplexed” the Diocese, which stated that the Committee of Unsecured Creditors had access to “the very same financial information regarding the Diocese and other members of the Catholic Family.”
The settlement offer mirrors one announced on July 27, 2020, by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, but for about half the number of civil claims compared to the Buffalo Diocese.
The Diocese of Rochester offered $147 million in 2022 to settle cases for about 475 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse. A judge also ruled in the Rochester case that plaintiffs can file claims against the Diocese of Rochester parishes.
The Diocese hopes to have a settlement completed in the next 12 to 18 months.
On Nov. 28, a federal bankruptcy judge will hear arguments on the Diocese’s request for a preliminary injunction through April 2024 to block plaintiffs from suing non-bankrupt parishes.
Read the Diocese’s full statement below: