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Diocese Of Rockville Centre Files For Bankruptcy Amid Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The Diocese of Rockville Centre filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday.

It is now the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the country to declare bankruptcy in order to protect itself from a wave of lawsuits filed over past sexual abuse by clergy members.

"The financial burden of the litigation has been severe and only compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic," Bishop John Barres, the spiritual leader of the diocese that serves 1.4 million Catholics on Long Island, said in a video posted on the diocese's website. "Our goal is to make sure that all clergy sexual abuse survivors and not just a few who were first to file lawsuits are afforded just and equitable compensation."

Barres said more than 200 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy members have been filed against the diocese since the 2019 passage of New York's Child Victims Act, which suspended the statute of limitations to allow sex abuse victims to pursue decades-old allegations of abuse against clergy members, teachers and other adults.

"What became clear was that the diocese was not going to be able to carry out its spiritual, charitable and educational missions if it were to continue to shoulder the increasingly heavy burden of litigation expenses associated with these cases," Barres said.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan spoke with Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing dozens of victims.

"Many victims view the diocese filing bankruptcy as just as extension of the coverup. But through litigation and the bankruptcy court, we are going to be able to determine what assets the diocese has, what assets they're hiding, and the billions of dollars they probably have in insurance coverage," Garabedian said.

The diocese said annual revenue has dropped by 40% since offertory collections have fallen sharply at Sunday masses amid the pandemic.

The diocese started an independent compensation program in 2017 to provide settlements for victims of past sexual abuse and has so far paid more than $62 million to about 350 survivors under the program, officials said. Settlements may be higher for some accusers who did not participate in the program but chose instead to file lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.

The faithful told CBS2 they just want transparency.

"No one hates this kind of corruption and evil inside the church (more) than real Catholics," parishioner Michael McGuire said.

Outside St. Agnes Cathedral on Thursday, other worshippers lamented the difficult situation.

"You need faith. It's a real test of faith at this stage of the game," Thomas Murphy said.

"I definitely need the church. The church needs us," Yvette Lugo added.

Rockville Centre is the latest of more than 20 Catholic dioceses in the nation to file for bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits over sexual abuse.

It is the eighth largest diocese or archdiocese in the U.S.

Barres said Chapter 11 reorganization should not impact parishes or Catholic schools, but added the diocese will have less money to help them.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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