8 survivors speak during special hearing in Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case

Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speaks to reporters on Monday outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore following a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case.

By Dylan Segelbaum

From the witness stand in a small, packed courtroom, Cathy Roland held up two photos, one of herself and one of her late twin sister, Terri, as children.

Inside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore, Roland then showed a picture of the two of them together, which she said was taken after the Rev. Eugene Ambrose McGuire had sexually abused them at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish.

“It’s just different,” she said Monday. “It’s just sadness.”

After presenting her statement, Roland told other survivors in the courtroom that her heart goes out to them. “We will get through it,” she added.

For a second time, survivors of childhood sexual abuse presented statements during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case. Eight people shared their stories. Many spoke about how being sexually abused stole their childhood, drove them to alcoholism and drug addiction, and ruined their ability to develop relationships and trust others.

“I hate God,” one woman testified. “Because he let this happen to me. And all these other people here.”

Archbishop William Lori said he was moved by the powerful testimony of the eight survivors who spoke on Monday during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy.

Archbishop William Lori again attended the court proceedings and listened to their statements. He later said the testimony moved him and commented about the courage of the survivors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner set aside time for the statements at the request of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents survivors in the case. The Archdiocese of Baltimore supported the effort. Six people spoke on April 8 during the first specially set hearing, which was designed to increase transparency and understanding in the process.

“From the court’s perspective, this is a listening session: an opportunity for individuals to be heard,” said Harner, who largely echoed her remarks at the first hearing. “Today, the court will provide time and space for listening.”

As a lifelong Baltimorean, Mark Easley said he went to church every Sunday at St. Vincent de Paul.

His family members, he said, were devout Catholics. He said he trusted everyone in that environment. It seemed like a haven during the political and racial turmoil of the 1960s.

The Rev. Edmund Stroup, he said, would have some people stay with him overnight, which was considered an honor. Easley said he was excited for his opportunity to do the same.

“I viewed this man as one of God’s messengers,” Easley said.

Stroup, he said, sexually abused him during that visit as well as a subsequent overnight stay.

Easley said he was mortified and kept what happened to himself, sinking into music as a coping mechanism. The abuse, he said, “turned me and my life upside down.”

Joe Martin spoke about the sexual abuse that he experienced at the hands of the Rev. Francis LeFevre, whom he met in fifth grade as an altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua.

LeFevre, he said, was outgoing, energetic and likeable. In retrospect, Martin said, the priest “ingratiated himself in all aspects of my life.”

Martin said LeFevre abused him during trips to places including Sea Isle City, New Jersey, and stated that the victimization continued after he started attending Calvert Hall.

He said he felt ashamed and embarrassed. Martin said he hated everyone and everything, with destructive thoughts turning into destructive behaviors.

Eventually, Martin said, he moved back home and returned to church. Elders prayed over him and stated that Jesus loved him, an instance he described as the most peaceful moment in his life. Finally, Martin said, he knew that somebody loved him.

Often, Martin said, he has anger. But he said he has also learned to let go and noted that he joined the creditors’ committee.

Following the hearing, Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist and attorney in Maryland who testified at the first hearing, criticized the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy. They also spoke out against the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023, which eliminated the statute of limitations for survivors to file lawsuits and allowed more people to sue institutions that enabled their victimization.

Right before the law was set to take effect on Oct. 1, 2023, and open up the church to a flood of lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy.

Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, speaks outside the courthouse following a bankruptcy hearing for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on 5/20/24 in Baltimore, MD.
Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, criticizes the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy as well as the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023 during a news conference outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore.

The Maryland Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the law.

The chair of the creditors’ committee, Paul Jan Zdunek, said it was gut-wrenching listening to survivors recount what happened to them.

Zdunek said the deadline to submit a claim in the case is May 31 and emphasized that survivors can do so anonymously. The committee also has a website that contains up-to-date information about the court proceedings as well as resources.

He said the committee has been meeting with the archbishop and his team.

“They’re saying the right things. Now, we just hope they will continue to do the right things as we move forward,” Zdunek said. “We’re all stuck in this together — and are trying to do what we can for those who have been abused.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘We were encouraged to be with younger boys’

— Breaking down a child molester priest’s secret testimony

Lawrence Hecker. The St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

In unearthed deposition, Lawrence Hecker pleaded the fifth 117 times, but still provided damning details of decades-long predatory behavior


The Guardian and CBS affiliate WWL Louisiana have obtained a long suppressed, eight-and-a-half-hour deposition of a 92-year-old Catholic priest charged with physically overpowering and raping a boy in a New Orleans church in 1975.

Taken in 2020 as part of a civil lawsuit demanding damages from him and the church, clergyman Lawrence Hecker provides in the deposition the most complete account yet of how the US’s second-oldest archdiocese spent much of its recent history taking extreme measures to keep the public from finding out about his abusive past. The questioning – which the church has fought in court for years to keep hidden – also reveals steps the city’s last four archbishops took to help him avoid accountability for decades.

Eventually, law enforcement officials were able to obtain an indictment charging Hecker with rape, kidnapping and other crimes in connection with an accusation that he strangled a teenaged student – at a school for boys interested in becoming priests – unconscious and sodomized him. A team of psychiatrists recently determined that Hecker was mentally incompetent to stand trial, at least for now. But a judge has not yet ruled on whether he intends to adopt that finding, which would probably delay the case months, if not longer – something that could be decisive in a case involving a defendant in his 90s.

Meanwhile, the case has since given rise to an inquiry to determine whether the archdiocese of New Orleans presided over “widespread sexual abuse of minors dating back decades” that was “covered up and not reported to law enforcement”. That is the way Louisiana state police troopers described the investigation in a recent search warrant that court records show was served on the church as part of an investigation into alleged child sex-trafficking.

The Guardian and WWL on Thursday published a report breaking down what the outlets consider to be the weightiest revelations of Hecker’s deposition. Given that the deposition spans hours as well as hundreds of pages of documents, the report is lengthy.

But in the summary below, readers can find some big-picture takeaways, along with analysis of some material which did not fit into the main report.

  • 1. It may never be possible to know how many children Hecker abused after his ordination in 1958

    The attorney who deposed Hecker, Richard Trahant, questioned him in connection to more than a dozen separate accusers.

    Hecker acknowledged either molesting or harassing about a half a dozen of those victims in a 1999 statement that he provided to archdiocesan superiors.

    The deposition also alludes to another remarkable document proving that Hecker was abusive: an apology letter which he penned to a victim that the archdiocese delivered on his behalf in about 2005. The contents of the letter were not discussed in the deposition, which Trahant said was not provided to him in advance of his questioning Hecker. But it is mentioned in archdiocesan records to which he referred during the deposition.

    Ultimately, Trahant took Hecker’s deposition months before key filing deadlines associated with the archdiocese’s decision to solicit bankruptcy protection in May 2020. Those deadlines prompted hundreds of additional abuse claims pertaining to the archdiocese’s decades-old clerical molestation scandal, and Trahant alluded to how he expected that would produce more Hecker accusers.

    At one point during his deposition, which was taken over two days, even Hecker himself became overwhelmed at the number of times with which he has been confronted with substantial child abuse allegations.

    “There has been so many,” Hecker remarked. “We’ve looked at so much of this stuff – I can’t remember all of the stuff. It’s swimming around in my head … I’m having trouble assimilating all this stuff y’all are saying.”

    During another portion of his questioning, Trahant said to Hecker: “You have committed so many felonies against children that you can’t remember them all, correct?” Hecker avoided answering the question by invoking his right against self-incrimination under the constitution’s fifth amendment.

    Colloquially known as “pleading the fifth”, Hecker invoked that right 117 times during the deposition. That’s about once every four minutes.

  • 2. Hecker’s history of complaints spans the entire US church abuse scandal

    Abuse allegations against Hecker generally came in clusters around the major milestones in the US’s reckoning with Catholic clergy sexual abuse, which began in the 1980s, when Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to molesting several boys. More claims – and Hecker’s confession – came in the 1990s, when Louisiana priest Robert Melancon was convicted of raping an altar boy.

    There were more claims in 2002, the same year that a clergy abuse and cover-up scandal subsumed Boston’s Catholic archdiocese and led US bishops to promise transparency as well as reforms.

    Meanwhile, public outrage over a 2018 grand jury report in Pennsylvania which established that clergy abuse within the state’s Catholic institutions was more widespread than thought prompted New Orleans’ archdiocese to publish a list of dozens of abusive clergymen. That roster not only included Hecker and was the first time he had been unmasked as a predator – it also set off another wave of abuse allegations against him, including the lawsuit that led to the deposition.

    Hecker’s alleged abusive acts date back to the early 1960s. An archdiocesan memo mentioned during the deposition, without elaboration, says officials have reasons to suspect that he abused until 1997, five years before he was forced to retire.

  • 3. The church was advised to oust Hecker from the clergy in 2002. It never did

    In 2002, which was the same year Hecker retired, an advisory board meant to help the then archbishop manage ongoing fallout from the metastasizing clerical abuse scandal advised him to boot the suspected serial child molester from the clergy.

    Had the archbishop, Alfred Hughes, successfully put Hecker through the process known as laicization, it would have prevented him from collecting lucrative retirement benefits. Instead, by not being laicized, Hecker received his full retirement benefits until the judge in charge of the church’s bankruptcy case required the church to cancel most of them.

    Hecker revealed during his deposition that he wasn’t even aware that he had been recommended for laicization, a process he nonetheless could have opposed if it had been imposed on him unwillingly.

  • 4. Hecker admitted to a federal crime with no statute of limitation – then tried to take it back

    During one of the more notable exchanges during the deposition, Hecker replied “Yes” when Trahant asked him: “You would agree that some of this sexual molestation occurred on out-of-town trips, out of the state of Louisiana, correct?”

    Hecker apparently soon realized what he had admitted and frantically said, “I – but I – no. I invoke my fifth amendment rights.” Trahant responded: “Well, I think you answered it and invoked your fifth-amendment rights.”

    Taking children across state lines for the purposes of sexually molesting them is a federal crime with no statute of limitation. Hecker has not been charged in connection with any federal offense.

  • 5. Hecker’s statements about his mental sharpness were contradictory

    Hecker’s mental acuity looms prominently in the state criminal court case pending against him. A team of psychiatrists that evaluated him said he had short-term memory loss which compromised his ability to assist the attorneys defending him, something the constitution requires him to be able to do to be tried for a crime.

    Hecker indicated he did have short-term memory loss in a 2000 letter that he wrote to the congregants of the church where he was working at the time to explain why he was being transferred away from them.

    But the real reason for his transfer was that a psychiatric care facility had diagnosed him as a pedophile, news which his superiors greeted by sending him on an out-of-state sabbatical. And records generated by that psychiatric evaluation made no mention of memory problems.

    At the deposition itself, Trahant bluntly asked Hecker: “Do you have a problem remembering things from 15 minutes ago?”

    “No,” Hecker answered.

    Hecker was also contradictory about his long-term memory during the deposition. He demonstrated a razor-sharp recall of exactly what church he was working at during specific years as far back as the 1960s. Yet he repeatedly described himself as drawing a blank or having trouble remembering some information, mostly with respect to questions about what his superiors may or may not have known about the abuse allegations against him.

  • 6. Hecker is one of many living, retired New Orleans priests facing credible abuse allegations

    One of the more stunning exchanges in Hecker’s deposition saw him look over a list of 50 archdiocesan priests who were retired and still living. Most of the names were in blue – except 11, which were in red. Trahant established that the names of those in red were living, retired priests with abuse allegations that the archdiocese itself deemed credible.

    “That would [mean] 22% of the retired, incardinated priests in the archdiocese of New Orleans have credible claims of sexual abuse against them,” Trahant said. “That’s a lot, isn’t it? That’s over one in five.”

    Hecker replied: “I do not know.”

  • 7. Hecker’s attorney demonstrated a palpably high level of resentment toward him

    New Orleans-area criminal defense attorney Eugene Redmann represented Hecker at the deposition and repeatedly criticized him for rambling before answering yes or no questions. His frustration with Hecker was perhaps most apparent when, in a raised voice, Redmann took the Lord’s name in vain and told his client: “Stop diarrhea of the mouth – Jesus. Just answer the questions. We will never end.”

    Typically, whenever Redmann’s patience with him ran thin, Hecker replied with something to the effect of: “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be difficult for all of y’all.”

  • 8. Hecker claims he believed celibacy meant only avoiding women

    In both his 1999 confession and a summer 2023 interview with WWL and the Guardian, Hecker attributed his serial molestation of children to the libertine attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s. But molesting children was as illegal back then as it is now, Trahant pointed out during the deposition.

  • Hecker then offered up an alternative explanation: he said the church taught him that priests could honor their promise of celibacy simply by ensuring they were never “alone with a woman in private”.“In fact, we were encouraged to be with younger people, especially younger boys, in the hopes that they would want to become priests,” Hecker said. “And then … it was definitely discouraged because of what was found out, that sometimes priests were – were being accused. So from then on, I made a promise to myself never to be alone with a person under 18 – period.”

  • 9. Hecker and the church greatly feared media exposure

    Hecker spoke plainly about how much he feared the media would one day report why he was forced to retire in 2002. “I would not want [friends] to know,” Hecker said. “We all didn’t want big publicity or anything.”

    Trahant at one point established how an archdiocesan official issued a letter saying the church’s “only concern” with Hecker was “that someone in his past might decide to go public”. Hecker pleaded the fifth when Trahant asked why “there was no concern for the minors that you raped, their families or kids you might rape in the future”.

Complete Article HERE!

Man opens up on alleged sex abuse from former Chicago priest known as ‘Father Happy Hands’


A man who says he was abused by a former Chicago priest known as “Father Happy Hands” told his story following a settlement last month.

Larry Kubbins, 60, held a press conference opening up about the alleged abuse by the Rev. Daniel Mark Holihan, who died in 2016, and had a message for survivors across the world.

Rev. Daniel Mark Holihan

“It’s been a weight I’ve had for almost 50 years,” Kubbins said. “They need to not be afraid to report it. I was not smart enough to listen to my mother and walked away from it.”

Kubbins alleges Holihan sexually abused him twice — once at Our Lady of the Snows and once at a lake house belonging to Holihan in Wonder Lake. During the alleged abuse, Kubbins and the attorney general’s office said children would call Holihan “Father Happy Hands.”

“He couldn’t keep his hands off boys, he took me to the boat and got me onto the lake,” Kubbins said. “He would get us behind the church, always pretending to straighten our alter boy uniforms and getting extremely close.”

In addition to Our Lady of the Snows, Holihan also worked at St. Patrick (1957-1965), St. Aloysius (1965-1968), St. Sylvester (1968-1969), St. Francis de Sales (1969-1973), St. Jane de Chantal (1973-1979), Our Lady of the Snows (1979-1990) and St. Jerome (1990-1991).

Holihan was ordained in 1957. In 1990, his ministry ability was limited with monitoring and the archdiocese removed his faculties to minister as a priest in 2002.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office said Holihan has 40 reported survivors.

According to a 2005 document written by Archbishop Cardinal Francis George, he decreed Holihan guilty and said “the accusations are so numerous against Father Holihan and the description of the actions are so clear that there can be no doubt that Father Holihan is guilty of the delict described.”

In 2005 Holihan was not laicized, which means officially removed from clerical duty, in what Cardinal George called “the ultimate penalty.” That happened in 2010, according to records.

“Because of the numerous offenses and the denial on the part of Father Holihan of what is so obvious to everyone else, I would be inclined to recommend dismissal from the clerical state in this case. However, given Father Holihan’s age and the face that it would be more dangerous to allow him out in public without being monitored carefully, I have decided not to ask for the ultimate penalty in this matter,” former Archbishop Cardinal Francis George wrote in the 2005 Archdiocese letter.

However, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office claims the archdiocese could have acted sooner.

“The Archdiocese of Chicago had more than one chance to stop Father Daniel Holihan from sexually abusing young boys. Holihan was an active pastor in several Chicago parishes until 1990 and is now known as one of the more notorious abusers in archdiocesan history. The archdiocese knew what Holihan was doing to children years before it removed him from the pastorate—but during that time, it did nothing to stop him, taking him at his word that he could turn over a new leaf of his own accord. And even after Hoder (the accused Rev. James Allen Hoder) resigned, archdiocesan officials sought to keep certain details quiet and established such lax control over his conduct that the priest was soon spotted socializing with children as if nothing had happened. More than a decade passed before the archdiocese finally decided to subject Holihan to strict monitoring. In the meantime, countless children had needlessly been put at risk,” the attorney general’s office wrote about Holihan.

Kubbins agreed with the attorney general’s office.

“He’s another example of the church knowing about him and then transferring him,” Kubbins said. “The Catholic Church got Father Holihan out of dodge every chance they could.”

Kubbins’ attorney said he reached a “low six-figure settlement” last month from the Archdiocese of Chicago related to the alleged abuse. His attorney said he has represented at least four other alleged victims of Holihan, who receive settlements as well.

The archdiocese told WGN News they do not comment on litigation when asked for a statement.

Resources for survivors for clergy abuse are available by visiting snapnetwork.org. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s anonymous abuse hotline is 312-534-8300.

Complete Article HERE!

Washington AG investigating clergy abuse says Seattle Archdiocese won’t cooperate

— Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a petition Thursday to compel the Catholic Church to hand over files and answer questions under oath.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says “Washingtonians deserve a public accounting” of how the Catholic Church handles claims of abuse.

By Lewis Kamb

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday he’s seeking a court order to force the Seattle Archdiocese to turn over files on priests accused of sexual abuse and make its archbishop answer questions under oath as part of a sweeping probe into how the state’s three Catholic dioceses handled claims of child sex abuse.

Ferguson’s office is looking into “allegations that the Catholic Church has facilitated and attempted to cover up decades of pervasive sexual abuse of children by Church leaders in Washington State,” his office’s petition for a court order states.

Because the Seattle Archdiocese “refuses to cooperate” with civil subpoenas issued by his office last summer and last month, Ferguson went public with his probe Thursday by filing a legal petition in King County Superior Court that seeks an order “to enforce the subpoena,” his office said in a statement.

If obtained, such a court order would legally compel Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne to appear for a deposition and force Washington’s largest Catholic diocese to produce a long list of internal records, including its trove of secret archives on clergy sexual abuse allegations dating back decades.

“Washingtonians deserve a public accounting of how the Catholic Church handles allegations of child sex abuse, and whether charitable dollars were used to cover it up,” Ferguson said at a press conference. “As a Catholic, I am disappointed the Church refuses to cooperate with our investigation.”

The archdiocese issued a statement Thursday disputing some of Ferguson’s statements as inaccurate and saying it was blindsided by his petition because its lawyers had been cooperating with his office on “a shared legal analysis” for the investigation.

“Today’s press conference was a surprise to us since we welcome this investigation and have been working closely with the Attorney General’s team for months now,” the statement said.

Ferguson’s office said it’s also prepared to seek court orders against the two other Catholic dioceses in Washington, in Yakima and Spokane, if either or both don’t comply with their latest subpoenas later this month.

With Thursday’s action, Ferguson became the 23rd attorney general to publicly announce an investigation into the Catholic Church in his or her state, his office said.

Long called for by sexual abuse survivors and advocacy groups, Washington’s investigation is the first outside probe of the Seattle Archdiocese’s handling of clergy abuse, advocates for survivors say. The archdiocese has publicly identified 83 clergy members “as credibly accused” sex offenders, based on its own private evaluations. But for years, it has resisted advocates’ calls and media requests to release its secret files about clergy abuse or allow independent investigators to inspect them.

Ferguson noted other attorneys general investigations have revealed “dramatically greater numbers” of credible sexual abuse cases than what local dioceses have made public. An investigation in Illinois last year revealed more than four times as many substantiated child sex abuse cases than what Catholic dioceses in the state had divulged, he said.

Ferguson’s announcement also marked the first time he has acknowledged the existence of his investigation, which has been active since at least July.

In February, his office declined to confirm or deny the probe after a group of anti-clergy abuse activists held a press conference to contend that he was hiding the investigation from the public.

The announcement from Ferguson, a Democrat who is running for governor, came two days after NBC News pressed his office to disclose copies of the subpoenas that a reporter requested under Washington’s Public Records Act in March. Without confirming whether they existed, the attorney general’s office delayed its disclosure for more than two months by contending it was still searching for records.

Ferguson’s subpoenas, made public for the first time this week and shared with NBC News late Wednesday, clarify the legal underpinning for the probe. The first subpoena cites his office’s authority to “investigate transactions and relationships of trustees and other persons” under Washington’s Charitable Trust Act, which regulates certain tax-exempt corporations and entities that hold charitable assets in trust.

A civil subpoena has never been used in Washington to investigate a religious organization, according to a legal analysis provided to Ferguson’s office and obtained by NBC News.

Ferguson’s approach is similar to one that New York Attorney General Leticia James used in 2020 to sue the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, based on state civil laws regulating charities. James’ suit led to a landmark settlement in 2022.

Ferguson’s first set of subpoenas to Washington’s Catholic dioceses each include a cover letter dated July 26, signed by him and sent separately to Etienne, Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson and the Rev. Victor Blazovich, the vicar of finance for Spokane’s bishop.

Ferguson’s letter contends that while Washington’s Charitable Trust Act exempts religious organizations, “the exclusion does not apply in the context of child sexual abuse, a heinous violation with no connection to religion or an entity’s religious status.”

The accompanying subpoenas list demands and instructions for each diocese to produce more than 20 categories of records, including all reports about sexual abuse allegations made against priests and other clergy members, employees and volunteers since Jan. 1, 1940.

The records demanded include those containing allegations against priests and others whom the dioceses already have publicly identified as “credibly accused” sexual abusers, as well as those they have not. The subpoenas also demand the dioceses to turn over communications with the Vatican about sexual abuse claims, and records showing church policies for compensating victims who alleged sexual abuse and accounting for any such payments that have been made.

All three dioceses had initially been given until Aug. 25 to comply with the first subpoenas, the records show.

“The dioceses only responded with information that was already public. They did not fully respond to the subpoena,” Ferguson’s office said in its statement.

Ferguson’s office also released copies of a second set of “amended subpoenas” that were issued last month to the three dioceses. Each includes demands for production of all previously identified records, plus five additional categories of records mostly about finances and accounting.

The Seattle Archdiocese had been given until May 10 to comply with Ferguson’s latest subpoena but notified the office this week that it objects to the subpoena and would not be complying, according to the attorney general’s office.

The deadline for the Yakima and Spokane dioceses to comply with their latest subpoenas is May 22, the records show.

Spokane’s diocese said in a statement Thursday that it has nothing more to publicly divulge since a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in 2004 “clearly revealed how the Diocese of Spokane dealt with all historic cases of sexual abuse.”

A statement from Yakima’s diocese separately challenged Ferguson’s subpoenas as invalid and unconstitutional, adding “there are already many public resources available for the information being sought.”

“We cannot publicize everything in our records, however, to respect the privacy and confidentiality rights of, among others, both victims and falsely accused clergy,” the Yakima Diocese’s statement added. “And so, we will vigorously assert our First Amendment rights.”

Complete Article HERE!

Court ruling for insurer a devastating loss for N.Y. archdiocese

Timothy Cardinal Dolan is in no rush to discuss efforts to change the child abuse law.

By Brendan J. Lyons

A state appellate court delivered a devastating blow to the Archdiocese of New York in a unanimous decision Tuesday that found the Catholic organization’s longtime insurer can move forward with its case challenging whether its policies covered claims for systemic child sexual abuse that may have been enabled and covered up by church leaders for decades.

Chubb Insurers argued that it has no duty to indemnify or represent the archdiocese in hundreds of lawsuits filed by individuals who were sexually abused by church employees, and that the archdiocese was not providing information that would allow the insurer to properly assess those claims.

The ruling rocked advocates and attorneys who have supported New York’s Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act, which had temporarily lifted the statute of limitations to allow alleged victims of sexual abuse to file once time-barred claims against their abusers or the institutions that harbored them.

“Today’s appellate court ruling represents the absolute opposite of the spirit of the Child Victims Act — and puts virtually every single Child Victims Act case covered by an insurance company at risk,” said David Catalfamo, executive director of the Coalition for Just and Compassionate Compensation, which bills itself as an independent alliance of survivors of child sex abuse.

“The entire insurance industry exists because any development could be theoretically expected or intended — people with flood insurance only buy it because a flood is expected,” Catalfamo added. “If upheld, the appellate court’s alarming ruling could allow insurers to deny claims to policyholders beyond sexual abuse cases — putting virtually anyone with an insurance policy at risk.”

But Chubb Insurers have countered that the archdiocese is making an argument akin to an arsonist burning down their house and then demanding to be paid out on their insurance policy. In court filings, they have asserted that their companies “have no duty to provide insurance coverage” in many of the sex abuse cases and that the Archdiocese of New York “alone must bear the full financial consequences of its criminal behavior.”

They noted that for decades the archdiocese’s clergy and employees raped and molested children entrusted to them in churches, schools and camps. The archdiocese hid those crimes, the insurer said, and “protected the perpetrators, and in many cases, punished and stigmatized those victims brave enough to come forward.”

The company issued a statement following Tuesday’s ruling by the state Appellate Division’s First Department noting the five-judge panel had rejected the archdiocese’s arguments and the lower court judge’s decision that had derailed their pursuit of a declaratory judgment.

The appellate court said the insurer’s complaint “sufficiently alleges that recovery would fall outside the scope of plaintiffs’ duties to defend and indemnify if the archdiocese had knowledge of its employees’ conduct or propensities.”

Cynthia S. LaFave, an Albany attorney whose firm represents nearly 100 claimants who have filed Child Victims Act lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, said the decision issued Tuesday was not unexpected and is far short of a victory for the insurers.

“I think the insurance companies will try to make a lot of noise about it,” LaFave said. “But it’s simply one of the steps in litigation. … It just means that they get to continue their case, and in the end, each of these cases will be heard on its own facts.”

She said that it’s likely most of the cases will be subject to coverage by the insurers.

The appellate court’s ruling came less than a month after the Coalition for Just and Compassionate Compensation sent a letter to state Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblyman David Weprin, who chair their chambers’ insurance committees, requesting that they convene public hearings and examine whether the insurers are complying with the intent of the New York’s Child Victims Act.

The outreach by the coalition, whose members also include attorneys representing victims of clergy sex abuse, was unfolding as the legal battle over the obligation to provide coverage for the abuse perpetrated by priests and others was unfolding in the case filed in state Supreme Court last year by Chubb Insurers against the Archdiocese of New York.

“Given the gravity of these issues and their far-reaching implications for survivors across New York state, we respectfully request that the insurance committees of both the New York state Senate and Assembly, under your esteemed leadership, hold hearings to examine the insurance industry’s practices in relation to the CVA,” the coalition wrote.

The coalition claims the insurers have used their strategy in multiple jurisdictions, including cases involving Rockefeller University Hospital, Boy Scouts of America and school districts across New York.

The Archdiocese of New York is affiliated with or operates dozens of churches, schools and other entities that are facing thousands of claims under both the Child Victims Act and the Adult Survivors Act.

Chubb Insurers issued policies to the Archdiocese of New York beginning in 1956, but says they were intended to cover accidents, and not damages for “bodily injury that the insured expected or intended.” In 1986, Chubb Insurers began adding sexual molestation exclusions in its excess policies and, in 1988, to the primary policies.

James R. Marsh, an attorney who is a trustee of the survivors coalition and whose law firm specializes in child sex abuse litigation, told the Times Union last month that the standoff with the insurance companies has been compounded by the fact many Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy in the face of thousands of Child Victims Act claims.

In those cases, dioceses end up paying millions of dollars in legal fees and insurers “have less of an incentive to come to the table because they know that by waiting out as long as they can, the situation is only going to get worse and worse,” Marsh said. “When you have an insurer that’s unwilling to come to the table to make good on these claims, the result is the diocese and the institutions go into bankruptcy.”

Marsh said the situation has been exacerbated by mergers and acquisitions of insurance companies, with investors often reluctant to pay coverage for claims that would draw down their assets.

In court filings, the Chubb Insurers have noted they have been continuing to defend both the Archdiocese of New York and its affiliated parishes and schools, but they have also sought more details on the organizations’ handling of sexual abuse cases, including details of any criminal conduct and the systematic efforts to cover it up.

Investigations and litigation have revealed that many dioceses hid sexual abuse cases from police and the public. Two years ago, the Times Union reported that former Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, who died last year, admitted in a deposition that the diocese systematically concealed incidents of child sexual abuse and did not alert law enforcement agencies when they discovered it. He said their actions were, in part, intended to avoid scandal and preserve “respect for the priesthood.”

Priests and other employees accused of raping and abusing children were frequently sent to church-run treatment facilities and later returned to ministry with no notification to congregations. They also were routinely transferred to different dioceses when abuse was discovered, only to strike again.

The appellate court’s decision Tuesday reversed, in part, a December ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Suzanne J. Adams, who had rejected Chubb Insurers’ arguments. Adams noted that during an oral argument in the case, one of Chubb’s attorneys conceded that sexual abuse is “bodily injury.”

“Here, the Chubb Insurers simply do not have a cause of action,” Adams wrote. “The plain language of the insurance policies at issue covers bodily injury and negligence as alleged in the underlying (Child Victims Act) actions … and the complaint sets forth no facts that would support a declaratory judgment that the Chubb Insurers have no obligation to indemnify, and consequently no obligation to defend, ‘each of the 2,770 CVA-related lawsuits (they) are defending in which the (archdiocese) has or may have liability.”

In court filings, Chubb’s attorneys have argued that “when an insured perpetrates, tolerates, and hides a vast pattern of horrific child abuse across decades, no insurable ‘accident’ that occurred, and the (archdiocese) has the burden of proving facts showing that it is otherwise entitled to coverage under any of its insurance policies.”

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