By Jacqueline L. Salmon
The Diocese of Wilmington, which filed for bankruptcy Sunday night just as a sex-abuse trial against the diocese and a former priest was set to get underway, is the seventh U.S. Catholic diocese facing sex-abuse claims to file for bankruptcy. (And the first on the East Coast.)
The bankruptcy filing in Wilmington automatically delayed the start of the sex abuse trial, which was supposed to start on Monday. It would have been the first of eight trials scheduled against the diocese, which covers Delaware and the Maryland Eastern Shore.
Wilmington bishop Rev. W. Francis Malooly said he had no other choice.
In all, 142 sex-abuse claims have been filed against the diocese (eight of those cases were set to go to trial on Monday), and Malooly said he wanted to to provide the “fairest possible treatment of all victims of sexual abuse by priests of our Diocese.”
The trial set to start on Monday was that of former priest Francis DeLuca and the diocese. Deluca served as a priest in the diocese of 35 years.
Our hope is that Chapter 11 proceedings will enable us to fairly compensate all victims through a single process established by the bankruptcy court,” Malooly said in a statement posted late Sunday night on the diocese Web site.
According to the Wilmington News-Journal, the diocese of 233,00 Catholics listed assets in its Chapter 11 filing of as much as $100 million and liabilities of as much as $500 million. It faces up to $100 million in liability from lawsuits.
That’s because of a “lookback” law passed in 2007 that allowed victims of child sexual abuse barred from filing suit against their abusers because the statute of limitations had run out to go to court anyway during a two-year window that expired in July.
The attorney for the largest group of victims isn’t so happy. Thomas Neuberger, who represents 88 people, called it a “desperate effort to hide the truth from the public and conceal the thousands of pages of scandalous documents” from being made public in court.
Other dioceses that have resorted to bankruptcy are: Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Ore; Fairbanks, Alaska; San Diego, Calif; Spokane, Wash; and Tucson, Ariz.