Wednesday 10 April 2024

Abuse survivors question bankruptcy move by Baltimore archdiocese

While Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore says he was grateful to hear the testimony of victim-survivors of clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese at a recent hearing, one of the victim-survivors has shrugged off his attendance as “part of a PR stunt.”

Lori, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker and Jerri Burkhardt, the director of the archdiocese’s Office of Child & Youth Protection, attended a hearing on April 8 in which six victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse offered statements as part of the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The testimonies were public, but off the record, with a primary purpose of giving victim-survivors the opportunity to share their stories in a public setting. Teresa Lancaster, one of the victim-survivors who provided testimony, told Crux it’s important for them to get that opportunity.

“A lot of people just don’t know what’s going on, and when people testify and put a face behind the word survivor it makes people realize that these are real life people who had their lives screwed up, and that public acknowledgment is important, I think,” Lancaster said.

As for Lori’s presence, Lancaster said she saw it as “part of a PR stunt,” and an attempt to “save face.”

“The majority of survivors see him as despicable,” Lancaster said. “I wasn’t impressed with him there, but I was glad he was there because he should hear what [the archdiocese] enabled its priests to do.”

Lori, meanwhile, said in a statement that he was “deeply grateful” for the victim-survivors courage to come forward with their testimony. He also apologized for the trauma they endured.

“To the victim-survivors who long to hear that someone is sorry for the trauma they endured and for its life-altering consequences – I am deeply sorry,” Lori said. “I offer my sincerest apology on behalf of the Archdiocese for the terrible harm caused to them by representatives of the Church.”

For Lancaster, and other victim-survivors in the archdiocese, their ire towards Lori and the archdiocese stems from its bankruptcy filing. Done last September, the filing was made two days before a state law went into effect that essentially allows child sexual abuse victims to sue organizations regardless of how long ago the abuse took place.

Months earlier, in April 2023, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown published a 454-page report that detailed more than 600 instances of child sex abuse by 156 abusers from the archdiocese; the majority of which took place between the 1940s and 2002.

The bankruptcy filing, however, prevented anyone from filing a lawsuit against the archdiocese under the state law. Instead, a judge was appointed to oversee the archdiocese’s reorganization, and a deadline – May 31 – was set for victim-survivors to file their claims against the archdiocese. The filing also prevented victim-survivors from testifying publicly before a judge.

“The biggest thing was to see survivors finally get to talk and tell their story in public to a judge,” Lancaster said of the April 8 hearing. “We would have been given the opportunity to talk in front of juries had we been able to file our civil lawsuits, and when the church filed for bankruptcy they took that away from survivors, and most of them have told me that they find it very healing when they share what happened to them.”

Lori has previously said that the bankruptcy filing “is the best path forward to compensate equitably all victim-survivors, given the archdiocese’s limited financial resources, which would have otherwise been exhausted in litigation.” On the April 8 hearing, he said he hopes the victim-survivors are helped on their journey towards healing.

“Their stories and those of the victim-survivors I’ve met with privately for decades, emboldens our response and determination to ensure no child in our care is ever again harmed,” Lori said. “I am grateful to the Survivors Committee for initiating the request to offer victim-survivors this opportunity today, which I sincerely pray will further assist them in their journey toward healing.”

The April 8 hearing is the first of two scheduled. The second is scheduled for May 20, which Lancaster said will be an opportunity for other victim-survivors to come forward.

“The May 20 is just going to give six more survivors the opportunity to come forward if they want and I think that’s a good thing and very healing for them,” Lancaster said.