A Minnesota bankruptcy judge agreed to give the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse more time to negotiate the terms of a settlement, but the two sides remain at odds of over the proposed deadline by which victims must file claims in order to be compensated.
Following a hearing Thursday, Judge Robert Kressel of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Minneapolis gave the archdiocese through at least Nov. 30 to draft a reorganization plan. The plan likely will center on a settlement among the archdiocese, its insurance carriers and alleged victims, all of whom were ordered to begin mediation shortly after the archdiocese filed for chapter 11 protection in January.
The archdiocese says it needs more time to work out deals with its insurance carriers, which could significantly increase the assets available to compensate victims. The archdiocese’s efforts have been complicated by that fact that it has more than 30 different insurance policies issued by about 15 different carriers spanning the late 1940s to present, court papers show.
The archdiocese has also proposed an Aug. 3 deadline for alleged sexual-abuse victims to come forward with formal claims, which is sooner than the deadline proposed by victims’ lawyers, who say more time is needed to contact victims and to help them file claims.
“The vast majority of survivors don’t live on the grid,” said Patrick Wall, a former priest who now works for Jeff Anderson & Associates, a law firm representing a group of abuse victims. “It takes time.”
Abuse victims and their advocates are pushing for at least six months from the date the deadline is set and possibly until May 2016, when the Minnesota Child Victims Act expires.
The act, passed by the Minnesota legislature in 2013, expanded the statute of limitations for sexual-abuse cases in the state, leading to the wave of lawsuits that ultimately forced the archdiocese into bankruptcy.
A lawyer for the archdiocese did not respond to requests for comment Friday, but in court papers, the archdiocese has proposed placing ads in USA Today as well as many other local publications to ensure victims are given notice of the deadline.
A hearing on the claims deadline, also known as the bar date, is scheduled for April 16.
Recent court papers show 139 alleged sexual-abuse victims have filed claims, though that number is expected to grow once the deadline to file claims is set and more people come forward with allegations.
According to court papers filed by the archdiocese, lawyers for the archdiocese, its insurance carriers and lawyers for alleged abuse victims have already outlined the broad terms of a settlement. The general provisions include a committee to administer victims’ claims, a future claims representative for victims of past abuse that come forward in the future as well as the settlement of claims against the archdiocese’s individual parishes through so called channeling injunctions.
All of these provisions have been successfully implemented in other diocesan bankruptcies. In total, 14 Catholic dioceses and religious orders have turned to chapter 11 bankruptcy to address waves of litigation related to alleged sexual abuse by priests and others, the vast majority of which allegedly took place decades ago.
Once a comprehensive settlement among the Twin Cities archdiocese, insurance carriers and alleged victims is reached, it will still require final approval from Judge Kressel.