As the Catholic Church and its insurer fight over paying abuse victims, a new group sparks questions

The exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is seen in a nighttime file photo. A New York state appeals court ruled unanimously April 23, 2024, in favor of insurers against the New York Archdiocese, arguing they should not be held liable for the church’s systemic failures on abuse.

By Ellen Moynihan

As the Archdiocese of New York and its insurance company, Chubb, battle over who is responsible for millions in potential payouts to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, a new group has entered the picture.

Announcing its presence in November with a full page ad in The New York Times, the Coalition for Just and Compassionate Compensation, which describes itself as an “alliance of survivors of child abuse and their advocates committed to ensuring that survivors receive the restitution that they deserve”, called on Chubb to stop fighting its responsibility in court and said their behavior was “callous”.

But in letters obtained by the Daily News, Chubb says it is, in fact, the archdiocese that’s being callous— all but accusing the coalition of being in cahoots with the archdiocese amid efforts to pressure the insurer to pay up.

Both the Archdiocese of New York and the coalition deny having any connection to each other. The CJCC said the group was working to hold the archdiocese responsible as well as insurance companies.

“We have no affiliation with the church – we are a broad coalition of advocates, survivors, and attorneys representing plaintiffs who are undergoing active litigation against the archdiocese and other institutions,” said a spokesman for the organization.

For the many victims of clergy abuse, the ongoing battle between the archdiocese and its insurers — punctuated by this latest chapter — is another blow in their efforts to seek justice after decades of denial by the Catholic Church.

Mary McKenna, New York spokeswoman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a nationwide support group for abuse victims, said the delay in payments to victims makes their already abhorrent experiences worse.

“It’s an awful thing for the survivors,” she said.

“Of all the people that I’ve spoken to, the church has known since the beginning. They did know who was an abuser and who was abused,” said McKenna. “I don’t blame the insurance for not wanting to pay because the church is ultimately responsible for their actions.”

“Endless surreal nightmare”

The CJCC’s website was registered in October and the group launched the following month, according to a press release on their website. Their address is a post office box in Washington, D.C., and they have three trustees — a lawyer for sexual abuse victims, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a “communications expert.” A spokesperson for the group said they had two other members, both lawyers, and no salaried employees.

When The News asked the coalition to speak with abuse victims the CJCC represented, the group made one of their trustees available without mentioning his leadership position. A spokesperson for the organization later said he “just became” a trustee.

The trustee, Stephen Jimenez, was active in getting the Child Victims Act passed. He filed his claim the day the act went into effect in August 2019 and still has not been compensated.

He noted the Adult Survivors Act, enacted in 2022 to provide a one-year window for adult sexual abuse survivors to pursue litigation, has resulted in resolution of cases already, including the one against Donald Trump brought by E. Jean Carroll.

“Many of us feel this is a kind of endless surreal nightmare that keeps going on and on and on,” he said of himself and his fellow abuse survivors.

When The News asked if there were any other members of the CJCC who were victims of abuse, a spokesman for the group said there were almost 100 people, including survivors, lawyers and advocates, who have engaged in actions as part of the coalition.

“Everyone who is pushing to hold the insurance industry accountable as part of this effort can rightfully consider themselves a member of this coalition,” he said.

More than 3,000 claims

After the New York Child Victims Act of 2019 — signed by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the newsroom of The Daily News — went into effect, allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue abusers and the institutions that harbored them, the floodgates opened with past victims seeking justice.

According to court filings, the archdiocese has been sued by over 3,000 claimants under the Child Victims Act. The Archdiocese of New York awarded more than $76 million to 400 claimants via their Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.

The program was introduced by Timothy Cardinal Dolan in 2016, three years before the Child Victims Act passed, and was intended as a way for survivors of abuse to reach a settlement without hiring a lawyer. Participants in the program waived their right to pursue legal action against the archdiocese for the abuse.

“Cardinal Dolan did do a bishop’s reconciliation a few years back and he didn’t use the insurance company’s money, he used the church’s money,” said McKenna of SNAP, referring to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. “That was actually good for the victims. They didn’t have to relive the abuse. They didn’t have to wait years and years.”

Chubb is the insurer on about 60% of the unsettled claims that went to litigation, said sources, which are valued at $859 million.

But Chubb filed suit against the archdiocese in Manhattan Supreme Court in June 2023, arguing that the payouts to survivors are outside the scope of what insurance should actually cover.

“The ADNY and the CJCC know that insurance policies cover damages from accidents. You can’t buy insurance for intended acts the ADNY has admitted: concealing, tolerating and abetting child molestation, which continued for decades because of the ADNY’s cover-up and its unconscionable failure to stop the abuse when it had the knowledge and opportunity to do so,” a representative for Chubb said. “That’s what this case is about.”

In October, the archdiocese tried to have the case dismissed. Lawyers from firm Blank Rome, representing the archdiocese, wrote that “Chubb’s heavy-handed conduct highlights that this lawsuit is a tactical maneuver in what appears to be a nationwide corporate decision to walk away from sexual abuse claims from California to New York”.

Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Adams dismissed the case in December, but a unanimous ruling in state appellate court on April 23 found that the insurance company can proceed in its case against the archdiocese.

Enter the coalition

Amid the legal fighting, the coalition took out a full-page ad in The New York Times in November writing “Chubb has callously chosen to resist, delay, and deny restitution to survivors, all in a cynical effort to safeguard its bottom line.”

In January, the group sent a letter to New York Attorney General Letitia James urging her office to look into not only Chubb’s “conspiracy to defraud child victims act survivors”, but the insurance industry’s conduct as a whole.

Chubb has started to fight back, calling foul on the CJCC.

Days after the ad appeared in The New York Times, a lawyer for Chubb wrote to Blank Rome seeking clarity about how aligned the CJCC was with the archdiocese.

“The CJCC came out of nowhere and is not transparent about who set it up and who is funding it,” wrote John Baughman in November 2023. “Its constituent documents do not appear to be publicly available.”

The letter also points out a similarity in language used in both a reply brief filed by lawyers for the archdiocese in October 2023 and the open letter by CJCC published in The New York Times a month later.

“That brief asserted ‘Chubb seeks to welch on its decades-long contractual promises.’ The open letter mimics this wording by claiming that ‘Chubb is welching on its promise’,” wrote Baughman, noting it would be “an extraordinary coincidence” for two different people to come up with the same wording.

Baughman went on to write that the two organizations had people in positions of power who have worked together before.

“There are well-documented extremely close professional, political and personal connections between current and former ADNY officials and people affiliated with the CJCC.”

In another letter, Joseph Wayland, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Chubb wrote to James R. Marsh and David Catalfamo of the CJCC calling out personal ties between the two groups.

“David Catalfamo, Executive Director of CJCC, and John Cahill, Chancellor of ADNY, have worked closely together dating back at least 20 years when they both served as top aides to former Governor George Pataki,” wrote Wayland on April 2.

“Mr. Catalfamo also served as the spokesperson for Mr. Cahill’s failed run for New York State Attorney General in 2014. Mr. Cahill was also one of the largest donors to Mr. Catalfamo’s own failed campaign for the New York State Assembly in 2022.”

Cahill contributed $4,700 to both Catalfamo’s 2020 and 2022 runs, according to data from the New York State Board of Elections. The only donations higher than that amount were from the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.

Neither the archdiocese nor the coalition have responded to the letters.

Attorney Jeff Anderson says he has filed over 400 cases for clients against the Archdiocese of New York, and although the Child Victims Act gave those cases priority, no settlements have been made.

“The insurers, not just Chubb, but all of them—there’s a host of them—they have all locked horns and refused to pay,” said Anderson.

Other insurance companies used by the archdiocese include AIG, Travelers, The Hartford and Allianz, the lawyer said. Anderson believes Chubb should be responsible for the settlements, saying they had been paid “over a billion dollars of premiums in coverage over the years”.

“They are villainous in their refusal to pay,” said Anderson. “They make it impossible for Catholic bishops to make peace with the survivors.”

“The survivors are suffering mightily.”

Connection denied

The Archdiocese of New York told The News no relationship existed between them and the CJCC.

“We are aware of the work of the CJCC, and share a common belief that Chubb should live up to its moral and legal responsibility to honor the insurance policies that they issued and for which they were paid for decades,” said Zwilling, the archdiocese’s spokesman.

Zwilling denied that Catalfamo and Cahill’s shared background is relevant and said calling attention to it was a diversion tactic on Chubb’s part.

“The fact that two individuals worked together years ago is immaterial and simply a further attempt by Chubb to muddy the waters as they try to find a way to turn their back on victim-survivors in an attempt to protect their multi-billion dollar bottom line,” said the spokesman.

When asked about the contributions from Cahill to Catalfamo for his Assembly runs and their shared professional past, Catalfamo shot back, lobbing his own accusations at Adrienne Harris, the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services. The agency regulates financial institutions and insurance companies.

“If there are any connections that need to be examined, it’s between NY’s top finance watchdog Adrienne Harris and her personal ties to a trusted adviser to CHUBB’s CEO. Perhaps then we can all begin to understand why the Department of Financial Services has shockingly turned its back on victims begging her agency to simply require big insurance to follow guidance that is already in place,” said Catalfamo.

Harris is a former employee at law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, which managed legal counsel for insurer ACE Limited when they acquired Chubb in 2015 and has said the firm’s Senior Chair H. Rodgin Cohen is a mentor. Harris left the firm in 2013, according to her LinkedIn page.

In response, a Chubb spokesperson reiterated their position on who should be making payments to survivors of abuse.

“The only ones turning their backs on victims are the ones who tolerated, hid and covered up sexual abuse of children for decades: the Archdiocese of New York. They can and should pay these victims now.”

The Department of Financial Services said they are keeping an eye on the case between the archdiocese and Chubb and will be holding insurers accountable “as appropriate”.

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