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New York’s Catholic church leaders control billions outside the reach of abuse survivors

The Catholic bishops of New York sold a lucrative insurance business they controlled and stored the proceeds in a foundation they also administer, keeping billions out of the reach of survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The move occurred in 2018, with the church selling its Fidelis Care insurance company and moving $4.3 billion of the proceeds into the new Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. At the same time, the Child Victims Act in New York was gaining momentum in the Legislature, a measure that the church had lobbied against for more than a decade. It was ultimately signed into law a year later; and it has exposed the church to thousands of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children and, in some instances, the coverup of those incidents and shielding of predators.

And charitable giving is part of the mission of the Catholic church. Meaning that Mother Cabrini’s assets, although separate on paper from diocesan assets, are controlled by the bishops and the funds used to support activities the church would be doing anyway, said Jason Amala, an attorney with Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, which handles abuse cases, making the foundation effectually an extension of the church.

“How did the church amass its fortune? The whole thing is supposedly a charity. Look at the massive wealth they’ve accumulated,” Amala said, pointing to how Mother Cabrini funds the dioceses directly and Catholic Charities. “So to the extent you can continue to do your ‘charitable works,’ but use those works to amass huge amounts of money, you can’t just use it to paper-over a huge chunk of your overhead.”

The move effectively tossed more than $4 billion from the right hand of the church to the left, maintaining control over the funds, but keeping them in a separate corporate entity so the money wouldn’t be counted as assets belonging to the dioceses — and capable of being pried away by abuse claimants.

A 2019 report from a Buffalo ABC television affiliate revealed a “secret document” from a local Catholic Charities meeting that planned to move funds that would traditionally have gone directly to the church instead to a separate church-controlled foundation, sheltering it from bankruptcy liability. That maneuver mirrors the much larger creation of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

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