ROCHESTER — A Roman Catholic diocese in upstate New York has become the latest to declare bankruptcy amid a wave of lawsuits over alleged sexual abuse of children.
The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday, becoming the first of the state's eight dioceses to do so and the 20th nationwide.
New York passed a law this year giving victims of childhood sexual abuse one year to file lawsuits that had previously been barred because the allegations were too old. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against churches and other institutions since the law took effect last month.
The state court system reports that as of Monday, there were 639 cases filed statewide under the Child Victims Act.
An attorney for a New York City law firm that has filed more than 30 claims on behalf of survivors against the diocese said the filing was not surprising.
"This legal tactic by the bishop is both disgusting at this point and disappointing because it's an attempt to take away the survivors' rights to a jury trial and also delay getting to the secrets that only the bishop and his top officials know about," said Mike Finnegan, of Jeff Anderson & Associates. "What it does is moves that back and makes it a lot harder to get to their secret documents that show what the bishops knew, when they knew it and what they've done with child sex abuse."
The diocese, which encompasses 12 counties, wrote in an email that it would be releasing material later Thursday but had no immediate comment.
The petition for Chapter 11 reorganization would help the diocese sort out its finances, marshal funds to pay compensation to accusers and create a plan for the diocese to continue operating. It estimates the diocese's assets at between $50 and $100 million and its financial liabilities at between $100 and $500 million.
The filing estimates the number of creditors at between 200 and 999, and lists "various sex abuse claimants" among them.
Insurers have provided a large portion of the funds used in other diocesan bankruptcy settlements.