Sex abuse victims seek to testify in Baltimore Catholic archdiocese bankruptcy case

Alex Mann, Baltimore Sun on

Published in Religious News

BALTIMORE — The committee representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s bankruptcy case is seeking to give victims an opportunity to tell their stories in court.

In a legal brief filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore, attorneys for the group of survivors representing all of the diocese’s victims, known as the Creditors Committee, asked a judge to allow survivors to give testimony about their abuse over several hours during hearings in April and May.

The Baltimore diocese, America’s oldest, declared bankruptcy on the eve of Maryland’s Child Victims Act, which lifted a longstanding time limit for abuse survivors to sue perpetrators and the institutions that enabled their torment, taking effect Oct. 1. Survivor advocates had long fought to pass the law, eventually overcoming a strong lobbying effort from the church.

Bankruptcy was a strategic decision from the church to limit its liability and protect its assets. The move, however, also allowed the church to effectively sidestep an expected flood of lawsuits under the victims act. As a result, instead of abuse allegations being made in public lawsuits in state court, they now must be filed as claims in the bankruptcy proceedings. They may or may not be made public before they are evaluated by experts and assigned a dollar amount based on the extent of their suffering.

“Survivor voices have been silenced for many years,” attorneys for the survivors committee wrote. “This proceeding is likely the only opportunity that Survivors in Baltimore will have to seek acknowledgement and justice for the decades of isolation and pain they endured.”

The decision of whether to allow survivors to give statements in court falls to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner, who has presided over the archdiocese’s case and has, as the filing from the committee’s attorneys notes, encouraged victims to participate in the proceedings.


“Based on past experiences of its counsel, as well as feedback received from Survivors and their attorneys in this case to date, the Committee believes that accommodating the direct involvement of Survivor claimants in these proceedings will properly balance the case narrative and deepen the collective understanding of the histories and perspective of a critical constituency in the case,” attorneys for the survivor’s committee wrote.

“The Committee,” their filing continued, “further believes that providing Survivors with a meaningful voice in these proceedings will serve to build trust in the process and, ultimately, enhance prospects for a timely and fair global settlement that includes expanded protocols to support the protection of children within the Archdiocese going forward.”

The diocese, which is referred to as “the debtor” in bankruptcy court, has not filed a response to the survivors’ committee’s request. Attorneys for the archdiocese, and a church spokesperson, did not immediately return requests Friday evening for comment.

Paul Jan Zdunek, chair of the committee of seven survivors tasked with representing the rest, told The Baltimore Sun the committee “worked it all out” with archdiocese lawyers before filing its request Friday.


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