Diocese of Ogdensburg Reorganization

                                                                                                                                       ​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


 What is a Chapter 11 reorganization?

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.

Why is the Diocese seeking reorganization under Chapter 11 now?

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.

What if the Diocese didn’t file for reorganization?

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.

How will a reorganization affect victims’ rights to their day in court?

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.

How is filing for reorganization fair to abuse victims?

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.

What does the Chapter 11 filing mean for parishes?

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.

What does this mean for Catholic schools?

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.

Does reorganization mean that the Diocese of Ogdensburg is going out of business?

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.

Does reorganization mean the Diocese can avoid having to release the files of clergy abusers?

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.

How many claims does the Diocese face?

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.

How much will it cost to settle the lawsuits?

Specific dollar figures are not cited in the claims. In the reorganization case, each case is evaluated independently, and a determination is made of how much will be awarded to each survivor. We remain committed to ensuring all survivors are treated justly.

Case Information and Court Docket