ANNAPOLIS, Md., Oct. 19, 2009
Delaware Catholic Diocese Files Bankruptcy
Sex Abuse Case Against Diocese of Wilmington and Former Priest Delayed
by Church's Cash Trouble
In this June 18, 2007 file photo, Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington,
Del., prepares to celebrate mass at The Basilica of The National Shrine of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Steve
(AP) A high-profile sex abuse case that was
set to start Monday against Delaware's Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and a
former priest will be delayed after the church filed for federal bankruptcy
The bankruptcy filing late Sunday automatically delays the case in Kent
County Superior Court, the first of eight consecutive abuse trials scheduled
"This is a painful decision, one that I had hoped and prayed I would never
have to make," said the Rev. W. Francis Malooly, the bishop of the diocese,
on the diocese's Web site.
Malooly said the decision was made "after careful consideration and after
consultation with my close advisers and counselors" and that he believed "we
have no other choice." He said "filing for Chapter 11 offers the best
opportunity, given finite resources, to provide the fairest possible
treatment of all victims of sexual abuse by priests of our Diocese."
"Our hope is that Chapter 11 proceedings will enable us to fairly compensate
all victims through a single process established by the Bankruptcy Court,"
The diocese covers Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and serves
about 230,000 Catholics.
Thomas Neuberger, an attorney representing 88 alleged victims, described the
bankruptcy filing as 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.
"This filing is the latest, sad chapter in the diocese's decades long
'cover-up' of these despicable crimes, to maintain the secrecy surrounding
its responsibility and complicity in the sexual abuse of hundreds of
Catholic children," Neuberger said in a statement.
Monday's case would have been the first to come to trial under a Delaware
law that created a two-year "lookback" window that allowed claims of abuse
to be brought regardless of whether the statute of limitations had expired.
More than 100 lawsuits were filed before the period ended this summer, with
four being settled.
Civil liability is the only recourse for victims of abuse that happened long
ago because the U.S. Supreme Court has said states cannot change the statute
of limitations for criminal cases.
Neuberger said the diocese's action may mean some sick and aging victims -
some who claim they were abused when they were as young as 8 - could die
before getting their day in court.
Attorneys negotiated throughout Sunday trying to reach a settlement, but
The Diocese of Wilmington is the seventh U.S. Catholic diocese to seek
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since the church abuse scandal erupted
seven years ago in the Archdiocese of Boston. Dioceses in Davenport, Iowa;
Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; Spokane, Wash., and Tucson,
Ariz., also sought bankruptcy protection. The San Diego case was dismissed.
Neuberger said he would make court filings in Delaware to "meet this
fraudulent tactic with the full and immediate force of the law." He also
vowed to seek out all assets of the diocese and its parishes.
More than 20 Delaware plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against former priest
Francis DeLuca. DeLuca served for 35 years but was defrocked last summer
after having been jailed in 2007 in New York for repeatedly molesting his
Barbara Blaine, president of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests, said the church has all the resources it needs to take
care of victims, and she described the bankruptcy filing as a way of hiding
"The bottom line is that the bishop doesn't want the truth to be exposed,"
The diocese has paid more than $6.2 million since 2002 to settle sexual
abuse lawsuits. Like others around the country, it also has paid settlements
to alleged victims who did not file lawsuits.
An annual report filed earlier this year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops stated that the church has paid more than $2.6 billion in
settlements and related expenses since 1950.