The bankrupt Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden says it is ready to put more money on the table for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
But victims’ lawyers balk, calling the offer “derisory” and “inappropriate” and plan to fight it in court.
Amid mounting legal bills and the current stalemate with a claimants committee, the diocese on Tuesday asked a federal judge to approve a bankruptcy reorganization plan that would create a $ 26 million fund for at least 320 survivors, or average payments of about $ 81,250.
The plan could grow to $ 40 million “if survivors choose to accept tax-free payments over seven years,” the diocese said in a statement, calling the proposed amounts “substantial and consistent” with previous payments. .
“The point has been reached where survivors should have the choice to accept compensation now,” the statement said.
The proposal elicited a swift reaction from survivors lawyers.
“It’s just an insult,” said Greg Gianforcaro, of Gianforcaro Law in New Jersey, who represents 70 survivors.
Gianforcaro said the plan “has no survivor contribution” and is “just an extension of what we have seen regarding the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church”.
John Baldante, of Levy, Baldante, Finney & Rubenstein in New Jersey, who also represents about 70 survivors, described it as a “terrible plan”.
“It is an effort of the diocese… to dictate to the victims what the diocese thinks is good for them,” Baldante said.
“I don’t want to get into hyperbole, but it’s just outrageously offensive that they are offering such a paltry amount of money, and offering it under the guise of being generous,” Baldante said.
READ MORE: Catholic Diocese of Camden left two-thirds of claims filed with its fund for victims of sexual abuse unpaid as it seeks bankruptcy protection
Last October, the diocese filed for bankruptcy, seeking to protect itself from financial claims after Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill in 2019 that allows victims of decades-old abuse to sue again. The diocese also spoke of a loss of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Advocating for its latest plan, the diocese said the bankruptcy had resulted in “huge” legal costs of more than $ 7 million, noting that the money was “no longer available to the victims.” Between 1990 and 2019, he said in court records that he paid more than $ 10 million to victims of abuse, at around $ 102,222 per claim, in addition to $ 8 million to victims under the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program in 2019.
Lawyers for abuse survivors say the diocese has more money than it gives away.
Late Tuesday afternoon, law firm Lowenstein Sandler, who is counsel for the survivors’ committee, filed lawsuits asking the bankruptcy judge to eliminate the diocese’s ability to unilaterally come up with a course of action. , and accused Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of mismanagement of the church. assets.
“The diocese is trying to inappropriately downplay the value of these claims,” said Lynda A. Bennett, lawyer at Lowenstein. She called the offer of $ 26 million to survivors “woefully inadequate” and said the committee was “not at all interested” in accepting payments of $ 40 million over seven years.
The diocese made no further comment on Tuesday beyond its statement on its reorganization plan. If the plan is approved by a judge, the diocese says payments could be made as soon as the end of the year.
The diocese serves approximately 486,000 Catholics in Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, Cape May and Atlantic counties.