A wooden Catholic cross is seen during an event on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. A leading advocate for victims said Thursday the new filing is an attempt by a Long Island diocese to "conceal the truth about predator priests." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A Catholic diocese in suburban New York City on Thursday became the largest in the United States ever to file for bankruptcy to shield itself from lawsuits that make accusations of clergy sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre said it filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
"The filing is necessary to manage litigation expenses, address disputes with the diocese's insurers and facilitate settlements with abuse survivors who brought lawsuits under the Child Victims Act," church officials said in a statement.
The Long Island diocese -- one of the largest in the United States, with 1.4 million members -- said payouts to victims and decreased revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic left no option but to file.
The diocese has faced hundreds of suits since in the past year since New York implemented its Child Victims Act, which opened a new legal channel for victims who were previously barred from suing under statute of limitations laws.
"This decision was not made lightly, but, with the passage of the Child Victims Act ... it has become clear the diocese would not able to continue its spiritual, charitable and educational missions while shouldering the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases," said Rev. John Barres, Rockville Centre's bishop.
More than two dozen Catholic dioceses and archdioceses nationwide have filed for bankruptcy under the weight of sexual abuse cases and settlements, according to leading advocate and Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson.
"The Diocese of Rockville Centre's decision to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a disappointing, yet unsurprising, attempt to conceal the truth about predator priests in the diocese at the expense of sexual abuse survivors," Anderson said.
"Like their recent attacks on the Child Victims Act and their efforts to intimidate survivors from coming forward, we see the diocese's decision to declare bankruptcy as strategic, cowardly and wholly self-serving."