Catholic abuse survivors: Baltimore archbishop to listen in court if victims testify

Alex Mann and Jonathan M. Pitts, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Religious News

BALTIMORE — Survivors of sexual abuse committed by clergy in the Archdiocese of Baltimore may have an opportunity to describe their suffering in bankruptcy court, and say they struck an agreement with the church to have Archbishop William Lori there to hear them.

The committee assigned to represent all survivors of clergy abuse in the diocese’s bankruptcy case raised the prospect of at least two days of grueling victim testimony in a court filing Friday, saying it would serve as an opportunity to humanize the technical, money-oriented proceedings.

It also would restore to survivors the chance to share their stories in a courtroom, an option lost when the church declared bankruptcy in September, effectively side-stepping a new state law that eliminated time limits for lawsuits stemming from child sex abuse, the committee’s attorneys wrote.

The request for the victims’ testimony needs the approval of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner, who is presiding over the archdiocese’s case. Harner had not, as of Tuesday, granted the request. But as the filing from the committee’s attorneys noted, she has publicly encouraged victims to participate in the proceedings.

If the judge gives the greenlight for such testimony, Paul Jan Zdunek, chair of the survivors committee, told The Baltimore Sun, “it is the committee’s understanding that the archbishop will be there.”

Zdunek said he believed it was critical for Lori to attend “so that these survivors can face him and tell him face-to-face, as opposed to via the media or via their lawyers. It’s important for he and the church to hear so they can keep front of mind how these children, who are now adults, were affected and how its shaped their whole lives.”


Spokespeople for the church have not responded to requests from The Sun to provide comment on the plan for Lori to attend the sessions. Yvonne Wenger, director of public relations for the archdiocese, said Friday she couldn’t confirm it and said over the weekend she had no further information. Spokesman Christian Kendzierski was not able to make a statement Monday and Tuesday about Lori’s participation. An attorney for the church did not respond to a request for comment on the arrangement.

Wenger said in a statement Friday that the church supported “an open and transparent process that can lend itself to healing for victim-survivors.”

“This includes our support of an opportunity for victim-survivors to testify during proceedings in pursuit of an agreed-upon plan for a timely and fair global settlement,” she said.

Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse celebrated the potential for victims to be able to address the bankruptcy court, adding that it would be particularly meaningful with Lori in attendance.


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