The Catholic Church in the United States has spent a staggering amount of money — close to $4 billion in the past 20 years — to investigate, adjudicate and prevent clergy sex abuse, and to compensate victims for the harm they’ve suffered.
And as those expenses have prompted dioceses to lay off staff, sell property and liquidate some assets, there is growing evidence that more Catholics across the country are deciding not to contribute to their bishops’ diocesan appeals because of the scandals.
“Clearly the leadership failures related to the abuse crisis are a major factor in some of the church’s financial problems,” said Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, a national Catholic organization.
At least 20 dioceses since 2004 have filed for bankruptcy protection to pay their bills and provide financial compensation for clergy sex abuse survivors. On Sept. 12, the Diocese of Rochester in New York became the latest to petition the federal courts for Chapter 11 reorganization.
“This is a very difficult and painful decision,” Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Rochester said during a Sept. 12 news conference. The diocese is facing nearly 50 lawsuits filed in the wake of New York’s Child Victims Act, which took effect Aug. 14 and suspended the state’s civil statute of limitations in sex abuse cases for one year.
The Catholic Courier, Rochester’s diocesan newspaper, reported Bishop Matano as saying that filing for Chapter 11 was “the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions.”
“We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ,” Bishop Matano said.
The most recent figures compiled by BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks the bishops’ response to the clergy sex abuse scandals, indicates the scandals to date have cost dioceses and religious orders in the United States more than $3.8 billion in total settlements.
Part of the tragedy in all this, of course, is the collateral damage: institutions and services that are being impacted, the poor and marginalized who are being affected, and the hardworking lay people who are losing their jobs.