The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del., which includes Maryland's Eastern Shore, filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Sunday night, on the eve of a civil trial in a high-profile sex abuse case against the diocese and a former priest, the Associated Press is reporting.
The bankruptcy filing automatically delays the case in Kent County Superior Court, the first of eight consecutive abuse trials scheduled in Delaware, according to the AP. The diocese becomes the seventh in the nation to seek bankruptcy protection in the face of abuse claims.
"This is a painful decision, one that I had hoped and prayed I would never have to make," Bishop W. Francis Maloody said in a statement on the diocesan Web site. "However, after careful consideration and after consultation with my close advisors and counselors, I believe we have no other choice, and that 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."
Malooly said the moved was "in no way intended to dodge responsibility for past criminal misconduct by clergy – or for mistakes made by Diocesan authorities. Nor does the bankruptcy process enable the Diocese to avoid or minimize its responsibility to victims of abuse. ... The Diocese of Wilmington is committed to pursuing the truth because truth heals."
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, according to the AP."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. He said he would make court filings in Delaware to "meet this fraudulent tactic with the full and immediate force of the law," and vowed to seek out all assets of the diocese and its parishes.
Maloody described the move as necessary to safeguard the work of the church.
"It is our moral obligation to make reparations and otherwise see to the healing of legitimate abuse victims and to try to restore the faith that in many cases has tragically been lost," he said. "But our moral obligations do not end there. We also are obliged to continue our charitable, educational and spiritual missions and the ministries associated with them. In order to do that, this Diocese must survive."