(CNN)A Roman Catholic diocese in suburban New York became the largest American diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday after being named in more than 200 sexual abuse lawsuits.
Major U.S. diocese becomes largest to file for bankruptcy after 200 sexual abuse lawsuits
The Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island could not afford to litigate so many cases, Bishop John Oliver Barres said in a video posted to the diocese's website.
Its finances had become depleted after compensating about 320 survivors of clergy sexual abuse since 2017 as part of an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program, he added.
"What became clear was that the diocese was not going to be able to continue 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 in the video, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic added to the "severe" financial burden.
Barres said that the diocese's ministries would continue, and that the filing would not affect employee wages or benefit programs. Parishes and schools are separate legal entities and expected to operate as normal.
Rockville Centre is the eighth-largest diocese in the country, serving more than 1.4 million Catholics, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The filing makes it the largest American diocese to declare bankruptcy so far.
The wave of lawsuits came after New York increased the statute of limitations in early 2019, creating a one-year window where child sexual abuse victims of any age could pursue their cases. The Child Victims Act also raised the maximum reporting age for child sexual abuse from 23 to 28 in criminal cases, and up to 55 in civil cases.
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection in February, also citing its "primary aim" was to resolve lawsuits brought under the new law. The Buffalo diocese cited about 250 sexual abuse lawsuits in its bankruptcy petition, adding that it "anticipates that in excess of 400 individuals may assert abuse claims."
The Archdiocese of New York, the second-largest diocese in the nation, came under fire in 2019 when it identified 120 priests or deacons accused of sexually abusing a child or having child pornography.
"We will work diligently with all survivors, creditors and ministries to maintain open communication while we work toward our goal of a settlement and a restructuring plan that includes a comprehensive resolution for those suffering survivors," Barres said.