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The Baseless Threats of Catholic Dioceses Bankruptcies

The baseless recent threat by the Stockton Catholic Diocese to file Bankruptcy if more child sexual abuse cases are filed against it is just one of several threats by diocese around the state that have no factual basis and are part of an on-going concerted effort by the church to continue to protect sexual predators in its midst.

This scare tactic is in use once again by the Catholic Church as a way to confuse state legislators and to keep them from supporting SB 131, the California Child Victims Act. This legislation would give victims access to the courts to seek justice for the life time damage created by sexual abuse that was hidden by the church and other organizations that should have been protecting children not harboring predators.

Are Catholic bankruptcies a real possibility or just another scare tactic strategy to protect abusers?

Consider the following facts.

This scare tactic started in California back in 2007, when the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego a Corporation Sole, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on the eve of trial of the first of five sex abuse cases in San Diego Superior Court. The case was assigned to Federal Bankruptcy Judge, Louis de Carl Adler, who at the first hearing where everyone meets the Judge and she outlines her vision for how she wants to proceed, she emphasized that she is Catholic, her children were the products of a wonderful Catholic school education, and that this was not going to be a case based on emotions, it was going to be all about business.

As the lawyer for a majority of those victims, I sank in my chair and assumed the worst. This was troubling since ultimately, I was appointed Bankruptcy Mediation Liaison Counsel on behalf of all 144 tort victim creditors.

During seven months of litigation before Judge Adler, it became abundantly clear, that Bishop Brom had no idea what the net worth was of the his Diocese. It also became evident that he had deliberately excluded approximately $700,000,000 in cash and real estate assets under the guise that these were parish assets being held in trust. It was clear that the diocese had used the Bankruptcy as a means of low balling settlement offers to the victims. Concerned about the transfer of assets and change in tax identification numbers of certain bank accounts during the pendency of the bankruptcy, Judge Adler ordered an independent audit be performed which, in fact, corroborated several substantial misrepresentations by the Bishop.

Bishop Robert Brom, submitted schedules signed under oath to the Bankruptcy Court where he claimed that he had insufficient assets to respond to the potential claims of approximately 144 sexual abuse victims. Those schedules deliberately omitted nearly $100,000,000.00 of cash assets (in what was called the Diocesan Bank) and over $600,000,000.00 in real estate assets. Just four years earlier, in 2003, this same Bishop swore under oath in loan applications and in a statement to the California Statewide Development Authority when financing the construction of a new Catholic High School, that the funds in the Diocesan Bank were assets of the Diocese. Legal title to all of the real estate assets were in the name of the Bishop or the Bishop's corporation.

Seven months later, after an agreement to pay nearly $200,000, 000.00 to the sex abuse victims, the Bankruptcy was dismissed. At the hearing on the dismissal, Judge Adler who had previously lauded the Catholic Church had the following to say:

I decided this morning to reacquaint myself with the exact definition of disingenuous. According to Merriam Webster's it means lacking candor, also giving a false appearance of simple frankness, calculating. From what I understand of the diocese finances, having spent hours reading Mr. Nelson's report and studying four versions of the diocese scheduled assets, I think the term disingenuous as applied to the diocese description of assets available to fund the settlement is completely accurate. There is, in my view, ample property available for liquidation to fund this settlement without threatening the mission of the church. It is simply a question of how the diocese sets its priorities.

I say this because this case has ramifications beyond San Diego. There may be other diocese in this country which may be considering Chapter 11 as an easy vehicle to deal with the claims of abuse victims. I think this would be a mistake now or in the future.

Bankruptcy Judge, Louis de Carl Adler

It seems that Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton is up to the same shenanigans as Bishop Brom. He is making the same specious claims that millions of dollars in assets do not belong to the Diocese, but are parish assets. Bishop Blaire may want to take heed of the words of Judge Adler, Chapter 11 is not vehicle to deny victims justice because hiding church assets will be easily discovered in the process, just as they were in the San Diego attempt.

Once again in Stockton, the bankruptcy scare tactic is no more than a publicity stunt to attempt to give credence to the argument against the passage of SB 131, the California Child Victims Act.

Six Things To Know About The LA Archdiocese's Predator-Priest Records

Recently, the Los Angeles Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church took two major actions: it released 12,000 documents relating to priests accused of child sexual abuse, and simultaneously announced Cardinal Roger Mahony had been relieved of his duties. Cardinal Mahony has been heavily criticized for his handling of sex-abuse charges against Church officials, and yesterday the Church also relieved his subordinate, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry, the current Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara, of his responsibilities. As the former Vicar for Clergy, Bishop Curry served as Cardinal Mahony's point person on claims of sex abuse within the Church.

Irwin Zalkin, an attorney with The Zalkin Law Firm and an attorney who has represented numerous victims of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, responded to questions today about the news from the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Q: What's the history of these records and why are we hearing about them now?

A: In the summer of 2007, a $660 million global settlement was reached between 508 victims of sexual abuse within the LA Archdiocese and several Catholic religious Orders. The settlement required the LA Archdiocese to release files on all priests who, over the last 50 years, had credible claims of sexual abuse made against them. While the settlement included a very clear process for identifying which records to make public, it has taken six years to get the LA Archdiocese to comply with that agreement. Finally, the world can know the whole truth about what they did to protect predator clergy members and the Church's reputation at the expense of young innocent children.

Q: Why didn't the Church turn over the files in 2007?

A: The Catholic Church wasn't going to release these files a minute before it was absolutely forced to. The Catholic Church has known for centuries that they have a problem with sexual predators. This issue is discussed in the Book of Gamora, in Canon Law, and in a Papal Edict issued in 1962. Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer at the Vatican, co-authored a report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985 warning that if the Church did not act on the problem of sexual-predator priests it would end up costing over one billion dollars. For his efforts he was made a military chaplain and sent to an American Air Force base in Germany. The corporate culture of the Catholic Church is to protect itself from scandal at all cost. To the men who run the Church, this means hiding their dirty secrets at all cost. They hoped that by paying the money, everyone would just go away. That didn't happen.

Q: How did they hold up the process for six years?

A: The settlement identified a certain retired judge to decide which records to make public. That judge belonged to a Catholic Diocese lay reviewcommittee responsible for reviewing child sexual abuse claims, and recused himself to avoid the perception
of a conflict of interest. It took several months to identify another retired judge to replace him. For the next five years, lawyers for several priestsand the LA Archdiocese made legal objections to the release of the most damaging records. The priests even went to the California Supreme Court, where they lost. The retired judge then ordered the documents released, but allowed the Church to redact the names of Archdiocese officials, including Cardinal Mahony, the Archbishop, from those records. That, of course, makes it hard to tell who within the chain of command knew what and when. Lawyers for the victims appealed, and after months of legal wrangling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias ordered the documents released without redactions. Lawyers for the LA Archdiocese objected again, claiming it would take months to undo their redaction work. We’ve been fighting with them over this for months. Finally, yesterday, Judge Elias issued her written order compelling the LA Archdiocese to release unredacted versions of the documents.

Q: What kind of information is in the documents?

A: These documents contain detailed records of written claims of parents and children who complained about the sexual abuse suffered by victims, psychological records of the offending clergy and internal records of the LA Archdiocese showing how it failed to respond or, worse, lied about what members of its hierarchy knew. They also contain the key information that the Church tried so hard to cover-up in the more than five years of brass knuckle litigation since the global settlement: the truth about specific men in its leadership. Now we can all see exactly how men holding the titles of Cardinal, Bishop, Monsignor, and Father put the avoidance of scandal above the safety of children.

Q: What should the public hope to gain from these records?

A: The lesson learned from these records is what can happen when an institution is more concerned about protecting its reputation than the welfare of children entrusted to its care. It shows how a religious institution in particular can try to hide behind religion as a shield, and use it as a sword, rather than doing the right thing. What the public needs to take away from this experience is the need for transparency when it comes to those who mentor our children, teach our children, care for our children and protect our children. Child safety should be our ultimate priority. Our children are our future, they need to be protected.

Q: What do you think of Cardinal Mahony's demotion?

A: The demotion of Cardinal Mahony is nothing more or less than a public relations ploy. He is retired and not very involved with the public anyway. This man is a criminal aider and abetter of child sexual abuse and should be in jail. Criminal prosecution against him is long overdue.

Court Fulfills Promise of 2007 Settlement: LA Archdiocese Ordered to Reveal Full Truth

Six years ago, Irwin Zalkin was preparing to serve as a lead trial attorney in a 14-victim clergy sex abuse case against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Just before trial, a group of 562 victims of clergy abuse (including the 14 plaintiffs in our case and others represented by The Zalkin Law Firm) reached a historic, $660 million global settlement with the archdiocese. That settlement provided benefits to victims of clergy abuse and the general public that went beyond monetary compensation, and last week it paid dividends with the ordered release of some 30,000 pages of unredacted archdiocese files.

Most of us have a general sense that the Catholic Church has engaged in a systematic cover up of its child sexual abuse epidemic; most of us do not know, however, just how far it went to do so. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. And therefore, the 2007 settlement called for the church to release a vast array of memos, correspondence, psychiatric reports, and other documents relating to its handling of sex abuse claims.

The Catholic tragedy is one that deserves deeper understanding than the simple knowledge that children were hurt and the Church covered it up. People need to know the lengths Church officials went to in protecting their own while ignoring, and worse, rejecting the cries of children and their families. And that’s why the Zalkin Law Firm is proud to have been deeply involved in the fight for the release of these and other documents withheld by the LA Archdiocese and the San Diego Diocese.

After years of legal delays, last week Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias issued an historic ruling that marks a sweeping victory for victims and other concerned members of the public. The order compels the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to release almost 30,000 pages of documents detailing the breadth and depth of the Catholic Church’s actions to cover up the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by members of its clergy.

From our experience in this and other litigation, we can attest to the heartbreaking details these records reveal. Details such as Church officials knowingly placing child rapists in positions where they would have unfettered access to children, then moving them to new positions with access to more and different children. Or Church officials instructing that files should be locked away, or even destroyed, to keep them from law enforcement and victims’ lawyers.

A mediator had previously ruled that the names of church leaders and priests who faced single allegations of abuse could be redacted from the files. But objections filed by the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press which demonstrate the great public interest in the withheld information prevailed, and Judge Emilie Elias ordered the records to be produced in unredacted form. Among many other reasons for the ruling, Judge Elias noted that parishioners who discover allegations of abuse in their own churches through these documents may want to talk to their children about their experiences.

These documents help fill in the blanks in one of the most unfortunate yet compelling stories of our time. And the public must continue to demand whether from the Roman Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, Penn State University or any other institution full transparency to ensure the atrocities of the past will never happen again. With the 2007 global settlement calling for the release of these documents, and Judge Elias’s important ruling on its requirements, we have taken another important step in the right direction.

Hawaii Window of Opportunity Gives Victims of Jehovah's Witness Sexual Abuse a Chance for Justice

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Hawaii now have an unprecedented opportunity to seek justice and hold those responsible for their abuse accountable. On April 24, 2012, the State of Hawaii changed the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse occurring years, or even decades ago. Beginning last April, and continuing through April 24, 2014, any survivor of childhood sexual abuse can file a lawsuit, even if their claim had been barred by the statute of limitations in the past. Actions must be filed prior to April 24, 2014 or become forever time barred. Under this law both the abuser and institutions responsible for the abuse can be brought to justice. For decades, a perfect storm of sexual abuse has arisen out of the Jehovah's Witness' policies of encouraging victims of sexual abuse to go to elders rather than law enforcement, demanding that elders keep knowledge of such accusations away from members of the congregation who were at risk, and requiring two eye witnesses to the abuse before judicial action could be taken. These policies shielded sexual predators and created a pedophile paradise in which abusers had little concern of being arrested, exposed to the congregation or removed from the faith. To make matters worse, for many raised in "The Truth," the idea of disobeying elders by speaking out against an abuser or seeking outside psychological help carried with it the probability of disfellowship and being shunned by everyone they knew and loved. As a result, sexual abusers flourished within the religion. By the time many survivors of abuse broke away from the Jehovah's Witnesses or found the strength to stand up to their abusers, the doors of the civil courthouse had closed to them. In Hawaii, those doors are now wide open again. If you or someone you know was a victim of sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness religion in Hawaii, do not hesitate. Get a hold of an experienced attorney at The Zalkin Law Firm who will help you determine whether a civil lawsuit on your behalf ispossible.

Judge Unseals Files Of Priests Accused Of Abuse

Attorney Irwin Zalkin featured in AP Story about Cardinal Ratzinger's Refusal To Defrock Pedophile Priests

AP   WATCH: Irwin Zalkin featured in AP News story about Cardinal Ratzinger's refusal to defrock pedophile priests