HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — An attorney for clergy sex abuse survivors said Wednesday that many of his clients are concerned about how the Diocese of Harrisburg’s bankruptcy filing will impact their respective cases.
Ben Andreozzi, who represents dozens of survivors, said there are many pending cases against the diocese, all of which will now be halted as the bankruptcy courts decide what to do next.
Andreozzi stressed the importance of survivors coming forward with claims before time runs out.
“It’s incredibly important that people who have potential claims come forward now,” he said. “If they do not submit their claims into the bankruptcy court, their claims will forever be discharged and the diocese will have no legal obligation. People who have claims against the diocese will need to present those claims in the bankruptcy court by a date that is not yet certain.”
Bishop Ronald Gainer said in a letter to parishioners that the filing will allow the church to still pay its bills as well as survivors, though it’s nearly certain no survivor will see more money because of this.
Andreozzi said the bankruptcy filing eliminates an important part of the legal process for survivors called discovery.
“You can’t get a deposition of somebody in your case who you think may have known something about your abuse, and get those answers to the questions that you’ve wondered for years and years that have been eating away at you.
“I know the Fortney family, in particular, was very keen on an opportunity to turn over as many documents and interviews. As many people as we could, to get answers that have been eating away at that family for years,” said Andreozzi.
The bankruptcy filing still needs to go through bankruptcy court, where a judge with oversight could decide that the diocese can’t do what it wants. If the process begins, though, Andreozzi said a committee will be formed to determine a deadline by which new claims must be brought.
“Even if we get statute of limitations reform, those survivors [who don’t submit claims] would not be able to pursue those cases because the bankruptcy would eliminate their claim,” he said.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said of the bankruptcy filing in a statement:
“Our Grand Jury Report uncovered abuse of children by priests, including 45 predator priests in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and a systematic cover up spanning decades that went from dioceses in Pennsylvania all the way up to the Vatican. It is of no surprise to me that these dioceses who engaged in sophisticated cover up of child sexual abuse have found a legal maneuver to skirt responsibility, absolve themselves financially, and continue to avoid transparency. This is yet another attempt to deny survivors the justice that they are owed by the church.”