Darcy L. Fargo, Communications Director
July 17, 2023
DIOCESE OF OGDENSBURG FILES FOR REORGANIZATION
Following extensive consultation with diocesan staff, the
College of Consultors, Council of Priests, the Diocesan Finance and Pastoral
Councils, priest and deacons, pastoral leaders, and a team of professional
advisors, Bishop Terry R. LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg, authorized the filing
of a Chapter 11 reorganization case by the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Bishop Terry
R. LaValley was in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of New York, in
Utica for today’s filing.
This difficult yet necessary decision was made in response to lawsuits filed against the Diocese under the Child Victims Act. 124 cases are currently pending against the Diocese following implementation of the act, which allows individuals who assert that they were the victims of childhood sexual abuse to file claims, regardless of when the alleged abuse took place. The claims filed against the Diocese date back decades (1940s through 1990s), prior to the institution of the Diocese’s safe environment policies and procedures.
Bishop LaValley again apologized for the suffering caused by child sexual abuse by priests and other Church personnel. “An important part of our ministry is to respond to claims of survivors in a way that acknowledges what they suffered and to help them find healing and a sense of peace,” Bishop LaValley said. “We are committed to responding to survivors and CVA lawsuits justly and fairly while maintaining our mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reach all in need.”
The goal for filing a reorganization case is to resolve the legal cases in a fair and equitable manner while allowing the Diocese to continue its mission. Had the Diocese not filed for reorganization, civil actions would continue for many years, with claimants who filed the first lawsuits potentially receiving larger awards or settlements, leaving little, if any, money for the remaining claimants. “Filing for reorganization does not hinder claims filed by survivors,” said Bishop LaValley. “Instead, it establishes a process for all claims to be treated fairly”.
Bishop LaValley said he expects the reorganization will have minimal effect on the celebration of the sacraments and regular parish life. “We believe reorganization will be fair and equitable to all claimants while we continue to provide our vital ministries,” Bishop LaValley said. “The Church in the North Country continues to focus on discipleship while addressing these lawsuits.” He noted that with the help of advisors, the Diocese will continue to evaluate how the Diocese will maintain its mission while seeking to compensate victims fairly.
The Bishop said that “while we hope to keep the impact on parishes to a minimum, it is likely parishes will be asked to contribute funds available to address survivors’ claims. Many of the parishes have also been sued in the abuse lawsuits, creating the potential for liability for them, but we are hopeful that the reorganization case will allow us to resolve all claims against the Diocese and parishes.”
Bishop LaValley indicated that the Diocese has instituted extensive policies and procedures to prevent sexual abuse. “The procedures also ensure that allegations are responsibly and justly handled,” according to the Bishop. “We believe that the fact that there have been no claims filed alleging abuse occurred in the last 20 years is evidence that we have made great progress and are on the right course. Nevertheless, we remain vigilant.” The Bishop added that he is available to meet with every abuse survivor, and the Diocese continues to reach out to them with a goal of fostering reconciliation and healing for those who have been so immeasurably harmed.
Prior to the implementation of the CVA, the Diocese offered assistance to survivors of abuse who made prior claims. In 2018, as part of the Year of Mercy, diocesan officials reached out to survivors through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) seeking reconciliation with them and offering compensation for their suffering. Through the IRCP, 38 claims were resolved. An additional 14 claims were also settled outside the program.
No timetable has been established for when the Diocese of Ogdensburg will emerge from reorganization. Bishop LaValley indicated he would like to see the process conclude in a timely fashion. He reiterated that this is especially a time for prayer: “As we move forward, please pray for and support victims of abuse, our consecrated religious, clergy, and lay faithful and our beloved Diocese.”