Attorneys for victim survivors demand information regarding accused clergy payments

RE: In re The Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Case No. 20-10846 (United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Louisiana) (the “Bankruptcy Case”)

Dear Mr. Mintz:
Our group of victim-survivors demands that the Archdiocese of New Orleans and each of its associated parishes (the “Archdiocese”) immediately cease making any support payments to or on behalf of perpetrators of sexual abuse of minors against whom a credible or substantiated accusation has been made (any such payments “Perpetrator Payments”).1

Because the Archdiocese made a distinction at the May 4, 2020 hearing between the prohibition of making prepetition payments and post-petition payments (not covered by the order because post-petition payments were not covered by the motion), it is our understanding that the Archdiocese is committed expending funds on Perpetrator Payments during the pendency of its chapter 11 case and that the Archdiocese may assert that it is required to make such payments because, under Canon law promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church, it is obligated to provide for the sustenance of all its clergy, including perpetrators of sexual abuse.

While it is highly offensive that the Archdiocese had made such payments for decades prior to the Petition Date of May 1, 2020 (the “Petition Date”), it is more offensive and inappropriate to continue making such payments after the Petition Date. First, the possibility that any perpetrator of sexual abuse could enjoy the full benefits of his pension, sustenance, and/or medical coverage, among other things, is antithetical to the Archdiocese’s purported focus on righting its past failures to prevent sexual abuse and its decades of covering up such abuse. Second, payments are not proper administrative expenses of the estate. It is black letter law that administrative expenses are limited to “actual, necessary costs and expenses of preserving the estate…” 11 U.S.C. § 503(b). Perpetrator Payments are clearly and unequivocally not necessary for preserving the estate. To the contrary, the actions of such perpetrators and the Archdiocese’s own failures to address the abuse are what led to the Archdiocese’s chapter 11 filing. Finally, any claim that perpetrators may assert against the Debtor is subject to the Debtor’s setoff rights against the perpetrator.

We anticipate that the Archdiocese may assert that the First Amendment protects its right to follow Canon law regarding an obligation to support perpetrators of abuse.2 However, any argument that the First Amendment protects the Archdiocese’s “right” to adhere to its interpretation of Canon law rather than the Bankruptcy Code is misplaced and Judge Grabill seemed to agree. The Archdiocese filed a voluntary petition under chapter 11 and subjected itself to the provisions of civil law governing debtors in possession. Moreover, the Archdiocese’s obligations and fiduciary duties to creditors (including survivors of sexual abuse) are governed by state and federal law; not Canon law.

Our objection to Perpetrator Payments includes payments to or on behalf of any individual that that has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor (as defined under Louisiana law).3 We note that the Archdiocese released a list of credibly accused clergy on November 2, 2018, including Diocesan priests. However, we understand that the term “substantiated allegation” (as applied to Canon law) may not include individuals who are “credibly accused” or as the Archdiocese defines it, claims with a “semblance of truth” (a lower standard as applied to Canon law). We further understand that such terms may be subject to different interpretations by different Roman Catholic organizations.4 Given the amorphous nature of such terms, the Archdiocese must immediately cease making payments to or on behalf of any individual accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
Kindly respond to the following requests for information by close of business on Monday, May 11, 2020:5

  1. Identify any individuals accused of sexual abuse of a minor (as defined under Louisiana law and The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at p. 17) to, or on behalf of, whom the Archdiocese has made any payments.
  2. Provide a schedule containing the amount of payments that the Archdiocese intends to make to or on behalf of each individual identified in response to Request no. 1
    between the Petition Date and July 1, 2020.
  3. Provide a schedule containing the amount of payments that the Archdiocese has made every year to or on behalf of each individual identified in response to Request no. 1 between the January 1, 2010 and the Petition Date.
  4. Provide the Archdiocese’s standards for determining if a claim of sexual abuse is a substantiated allegation or a credible accusation.

We reserve the right to demand that the Archdiocese cease making payments to or on behalf of any person accused of sexual abuse, even if the Archdiocese does not categorize such accusations as credible or substantiated.

We are available to discuss this issue, and look forward to the Archdiocese ceasing to make any Perpetrator Payments.

Regards,

SOREN E. GISLESON, ESQ.

cc: Amanda B. George, Esq., Office of the United States Trustee
(via electronic mail)


1 Perpetrator Payments include any monetary support to or on behalf of perpetrators of abuse, including without limitation monetary salary, pension, sustenance, healthcare, insurance, and/or housing payments.
2 We do not concede that Canon law is applicable in any way to the Bankruptcy Case or to our clients’ legal rights and remedies.
3 We understand that Canon law has been interpreted to provide that a minor may be an individual under the age of 16 depending on when the abuse occurred. Such an interpretation is not applicable in this case, and the age of a minor under Louisiana law governs.
4 See https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2019/01/03/giving-due-process-its-due/ ; and https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/disparity-definitions-dogs-credible-accusation-standard.
5 Similar requests for information as requested in Requests 1-3 were made prior to the date hereof in state court discovery, as such we expect that the Debtor has already begun the process of obtaining the requested information.