July 17, 2023
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Peace and grace be with you! Today, I write to share some important news and to seek your prayers and support. After extensive consultation with diocesan staff, the Council of Priests, College of Consultors, Diocesan Finance Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, the priests, deacons, pastoral leaders of the diocese, and outside legal and financial advisors, I have authorized the filing of a Chapter 11 reorganization for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg. This difficult and painful yet necessary decision was made in response to the lawsuits filed against the diocese under the Child Victims Act.
I again apologize for the suffering caused by child sexual abuse by priests and other church personnel. I am sorry for the suffering endured by survivors and their families. I remain committed to helping victims find hope, healing and some peace of mind. I remain equally committed to maintaining a safe environment in our Church for all, especially our children and young people.
Between August 2019 and August 2021, when the Child Victims Act window was open, 138 lawsuits, previously barred by the statute of limitations, were filed against the diocese, parishes and other related Catholic entities. These lawsuits relate to incidents that allegedly happened decades ago, prior to the institution of our current safe environment policies and procedures. We are surprised at the number of claims that have been filed, but even one incident of abuse is too many. While we have been in litigation for almost three years, the merit of the claims and amount needed to resolve them has not yet been determined. In the past three years we have been able to resolve 14 claims by settlement or dismissal, and we have come to realize that reorganization is the best context for resolving the remaining claims while continuing our mission as a diocese.
Without filing for reorganization, the Diocese would face these civil actions in a slow, unpredictable, and costly process that would require years of court involvement. Such lengthy lawsuits would delay justice for survivors and prolong their suffering. Reorganization ensures that each survivor receives just compensation. It eliminates a race to the courthouse in which the earliest cases settled or brought to judgement could exhaust the resources available to pay claims, leaving nothing for victims whose cases are resolved later. Filing for reorganization does not hinder claims filed by victims of sexual abuse. Rather, it establishes a process for all claims to be treated fairly. Reorganization enables the diocese to resolve the claims in one court in an efficient and timely manner.
Filing for reorganization allows the diocese to continue its programs, services, and ministries. It allows us to continue to pay our employees and retirees. We must continue to focus on our relationships with Christ while resolving the claims that have been filed. With the help of our advisors, we will evaluate diocesan assets to determine how we can maintain our mission while seeking to compensate victims fairly. We will continue our mission.
As a diocese, we have worked in a serious and determined manner to reach out to survivors of child sexual abuse, and we have developed safe environment policies and procedures that keep our young people safe. We have instituted policies and procedures to prevent abuse from happening. We have addressed allegations responsibly and promptly when they have been raised. I continue to be available to meet with victims, and we continue to offer support and assistance to those who have been so terribly hurt by this tragedy.
In New York, parishes and other entities are separate corporations. Only the diocese will file for reorganization. However, it is our hope that this reorganization will resolve all claims against the parishes and other related Catholic entities along with those against the diocese. It is likely that parishes will be asked to contribute funds to settle these claims so they can be free of litigation in state courts and released from all liability for existing claims.
As I stated above, a goal of the reorganization is to help us continue our mission. We will continue to serve God’s people and spread the Gospel in the North Country. In order to do so we need your prayers and continued support. Funds from our recent capital campaign were designated for specific parish and diocesan projects, and it is our intention to use those gifts for their intended purpose. The Bishop’s Fund Appeal supports essential ministries in our diocese, including the education of seminarians, Camp Guggenheim, the Good Samaritan Fund, and the training of lay ministers, priests, and deacons. It is our intent to use the donations to the Bishops’ Fund Appeal to continue these essential ministries.
For additional information on reorganization, please visit our diocesan website: https://www.rcdony.org/reorganization. I am attaching a sheet with frequently asked questions for your information. We will keep you updated on developments in the reorganization.
As we embark on this journey towards reorganization, I ask you to join me to pray for all victims of child sexual abuse. May this process give them a sense of peace and bring them healing that comes from God alone. I also ask you to pray for our diocese. Please pray for me, my brother priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and all who work to spread the Good News in the North Country. May we be united in our resolve to reach out to victims of sexual abuse with compassion, and to renew our commitment to serve God and neighbor.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Terry R. LaValley
Bishop of Ogdensburg
Chapter 11 reorganization is an action undertaken voluntarily by an entity to allow it to reorganize financially. The goal of reorganization is to respond to the claims of creditors and to emerge with its operations intact so the diocese can continue its mission. Reorganization immediately stops all efforts to collect debts and all legal actions against the entity. Chapter 11 does not mean the Diocese is going out of business or is insolvent.
As a result of the New York State Child Victim Act, the Diocese is currently facing 124 claims of sexual abuse of a minor, all dating back decades. Litigation costs and settlements would likely exceed many millions of dollars. The Diocese simply does not have the resources to settle or litigate these claims.
The Diocese would face 124 civil actions, which would require years of court involvement. Claimants who resolve their claims first would receive all funds available to pay survivors. As a result, later claimants would receive little or nothing. Most importantly, these lengthy proceedings would delay justice for victims, prolonging their pain and suffering.
Without reorganization, the Diocese would continue to face multiple civil actions; a slow, unpredictable, time consuming and costly process that would require years of court involvement. Most significantly, such lengthy lawsuits would delay justice for the survivors and only prolong their pain and suffering. In reorganization, all claims are resolved in one court where all survivors’ claims can be heard and be given due consideration while allowing the Diocese to continue to fulfill its day-to-day ministries to the people of Northern New York.
As part of our ministry, the Diocese desires to respond to the claims of survivors in a way that acknowledges their suffering and helps them find some sense of peace. Reorganization ensures survivors are treated fairly. Without such a filing, large awards or settlements for cases that move through the legal system early could exhaust available resources and leave little or nothing for survivors whose cases move through the legal system later. Reorganization is fairer to all.
It is our sincere hope and prayer that the process to resolve claims will have minimal effect on the celebration of sacraments and regular parish life. Some parishes have been directly sued under the CVA, and that does create the potential for some parish liability. While we hope to keep parish involvement to a minimum, it is likely all parishes will be asked to contribute to funds which will be available to address survivors’ claims.
Some schools also have been sued under the CVA. Therefore, there is a potential for liability for such schools. However, we hope to resolve claims against the schools and parishes through the framework of the Diocese’s reorganization plan. It is our sincere hope that this process will have minimal impact on the operation of Catholic schools in the diocese.
Chapter 11 does not mean that the Diocese of Ogdensburg has run out of money or will cease operations. We remain committed to ensuring we can continue to provide the sacraments and essential ministries. We expect that we can continue our ministries and operations while the reorganization case is pending and successfully emerge from reorganization as a stronger, even more vibrant organization.
Hiding information about abuse cases is not the purpose of reorganization. In a reorganization case, victims, their attorneys, and the court will be able to review documents and information relating to their claims, just like they could outside of reorganization. Documents and information related to claims will be available to victims and their legal teams.
138 CVA lawsuits were filed against the diocese following the August 2019 implementation of the Child Victims Act (CVA) in New York State. Over the last three years, 14 of the claims have been resolved by settlement or dismissal. The CVA allowed individuals who claim they are survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers and their abusers’ employers regardless of when the alleged abuse took place.
Your weekly parish donations go first and foremost to support your parish, as well as to provide funding for important ministries of the Diocese that support your parish and serve the faithful of the North Country. While the Diocese reorganizes, these needs continue and can only be met with your financial support.
The Bishop’s Fund Appeal supports essential ministries in our diocese, including education of seminarians, Camp Guggenheim, the Good Samaritan Fund, the training of lay ministers and deacons and other ministries. These vital ministries rely on the support of the Church in the North Country. It is our intent to use Bishop’s Fund, Planned Giving and capital campaign donations for the essential ministries of the diocese for which they were donated. Funds donated to the capital campaign were designated for specific parish and diocesan projects meant to renovate our Church facilities and programs, and it is our intention to use those funds for their intended purpose.
The Diocese is determined to fulfill its mission to teach, serve and sanctify. We do not know if it will be necessary to lay off employees as we reorganize. It is not our desire to reduce our workforce. We will try to maintain a satisfactory level of service to our parishes and entities while evaluating the financial realities we face. At the present time, the Diocese does not plan to lay off employees as a result of reorganization.
Catholic Charities is a legally incorporated entity separate from the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Catholic Charities provides vital services to individuals and families in need, following Christ’s call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. As a separate incorporated entity, the ministries and operations of Catholic Charities should not be directly affected by the Diocese’s reorganization.
We will be working with the courts to evaluate all operations and ensure the Diocese continues to conduct its mission of proclaiming Christ and the Gospels to the North Country and serving those in need in the most efficient way possible, while ensuring all debts can be settled and justice can be given to survivors.
In reorganization, it is generally the case that retirement plan assets cannot be used to satisfy debts to creditors or claimants. The Diocese plans to take the position in the chapter 11 case that retirement plan assets are not available to satisfy the claims of general creditors. During the chapter 11 case, the Diocese will continue to provide employees and retirees with salaries and benefits.
Chapter 11 is a voluntary action taken by an organization to reorganize financially. It has two principal goals: (a) to respond to the financial claims of those to whom it owes money, and (b) to emerge with its operations intact. A Chapter 11 filing immediately stops all efforts at collection of debts and legal actions against the organization. Chapter 11 does not mean that the organization is going out of business. Under Chapter 11, the organization generally maintains its normal operations and continues to provide employees with salaries and benefits, and retiree benefits. An organization in Chapter 11 continues to carry on its mission.