The resolution of those cases hinge in large part on this week’s legal maneuver by the Archdiocese of New York, which asked a court to compel its 32 insurers to provide defense coverage and possible settlements. In response to at least one major insurance company’s indication it did not intend to provide coverage, the archdiocese sought legal remedy in an effort to protect its hundreds of churches and parishes from financial ruin.
The move had attorneys like James Marsh, of New York-based Marsh Law, applauding.
“This is an unequivocal sign that the Church is getting serious about dealing with its exposure,” Marsh said. “With the New York Archdiocese facing significant financial liability after decades of heartbreaking sexual abuse, it appears that it is beginning the process of addressing its financial challenges head on.”
The filing comes a little more than one month before the window opens allowing people to file civil cases involving sexual abuse against the archdiocese and other organizations. The cases are said to be worth tens of millions of dollars or more collectively based on the number of expected suits to be filed in the one-year window starting Aug. 14.
Jennifer Freeman, of Marsh Law, who is representing 40 plaintiffs against the New York Archdiocese, explained that the June filing wasn’t an unexpected move considering how many people could potentially sue.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people across the country experienced abuse by priests at the New York Archdiocese,” Freeman said. “This legal filing is similar to those we’ve seen around the country when an institution, like the Church, is preparing to face its legal exposure in court.”
Marsh thinks upstate dioceses, like Rochester, are in worse shape financially than New York Archdiocese, and expects they’ll have a hard time.
“We expect that many of the diocese upstate will declare bankruptcy, Marsh said. “Many don’t have the assets of the New York Archdiocese.”
Mike Pfau, of Seattle-Based Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, has at least 50 plaintiffs and thinks bankruptcy is a mixed bag, bringing benefits and risks.
“While bankruptcy streamlines the payment process for survivors, issues with transparency arise,” Pfau said.