Two lawyers representing more than 200 alleged victims said they would walk away from mediation talks unless assured the archdiocese would not file for bankruptcy, it was reported Monday. Cardinal Bernard Law, criticized by victims' advocates for failing to protect children from abusive priests, has been involved in bankruptcy discussions but has not yet given his approval, the Boston Globe reported.
Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said reports the church was close to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection were "speculative and premature," but told reporters Sunday, "We have to consider all of our options. We're in mediation and we are going to continue in mediation."
Jeffrey A. Newman, one of the lawyers representing alleged victims, said, however, it made no sense to continue mediation as long as bankruptcy was still being considered. "They should either go ahead and declare bankruptcy or stop talking about it," Newman said in Monday's Globe.
Newman, who along with Roderick MacLeish Jr. represents 219 alleged victims, said acknowledgement by the archdiocese that it is considering bankruptcy amounts to "rank intimidation" designed to pressure victims to settle claims quickly. Some 450 people have filed sex-abuse claims against the archdiocese this year. The total of all claims could exceed $100 million.
Unnamed church sources told the Globe that senior advisers to Law agree bankruptcy protection would be the church's best option, compared to years of expensive litigation, and that some church officials have become pessimistic about prospects of resolution through mediation.
If the church does file for bankruptcy, it would bring to a halt action in all civil cases filed in Suffolk Superior Court and all 450 cases would be lumped together in one class action suit, the Globe said. Bankruptcy would also mean the cardinal would no longer have to answer embarrassing questions in pretrial depositions about his oversight of abusive priests, sources told the Globe.
If the archdiocese files for bankruptcy, it would have 120 days to submit a plan. The filing itself could bring both sides quickly to the negotiating table, according to bankruptcy lawyers.