Archdiocese of Baltimore Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Ahead of New Child Abuse Claims Law


BALTIMORE — The Archdiocese of Baltimore has submitted a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, a move that comes just days before a new state law eliminating the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims is set to take effect. This new law will enable victims to pursue legal action against their abusers, even decades after the incidents occurred.

In a statement posted on the archdiocese website, Archbishop William E. Lori expressed that this step will allow the oldest diocese in the United States to "equitably compensate victim-survivors of child sexual abuse" while ensuring that the local Catholic church can continue its mission and ministries.

However, critics, including attorneys and advocates, argue that the church's intent is to safeguard its assets and stifle abuse victims by redirecting all civil claims against the archdiocese to bankruptcy court, a less transparent forum.

Michael McDonnell, interim executive director of the national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, stated that the Baltimore archdiocese's actions mirror those of other jurisdictions across the country, seeking bankruptcy protection to offset settlement costs and avoid further scrutiny. McDonnell emphasized, "Catholic bishops are employing the same deception from coast to coast."

Under the new state law, while the archdiocese itself cannot be sued, other entities such as Catholic schools and individual parishes can still be held accountable. This legislation was passed by Maryland lawmakers in April, shortly after the state attorney general released a comprehensive report exposing the extent of child sexual abuse and cover-ups within the nation's oldest Catholic diocese.

The report identified over 150 clergy members with credible accusations of abuse involving more than 600 victims spanning several decades, painting a damning picture of the archdiocese. Baltimore attorney Rob Jenner, representing abuse victims, asserted that the bankruptcy decision deals yet another blow to the survivors, particularly since the church waited until the last minute, heightening victims' disappointment.

Kimberly Mills-Bonham, one of the plaintiffs, will now have her case redirected to bankruptcy court as the school where the alleged abuse took place has since closed. Mills-Bonham alleges abuse by Father Joseph Maskell, a notorious abuser featured in the Netflix docuseries "The Keepers."

The Chapter 11 filing estimates that the archdiocese has between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors, with assets valued between just over $100 million and $500 million, and liabilities ranging from a little over $500 million to $1 billion. There are 685 survivors listed as creditors.

The financial reorganization process is expected to span two to three years and will involve multiple steps. Victims will be able to submit claims to the bankruptcy court for negotiation, aiming to establish a trust fund for compensation. While the archdiocese seeks solace for victims through this process, their attorneys pledge to continue their fight in court.