Bankruptcy judge gives victims of clergy abuse until August to file a claim

Updated: 5:45 p.m. | Posted: 3:25 p.m.

Sex abuse victims who have not yet come forward to file a claim against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis may see their window of opportunity shrink.

A federal judge on Thursday said he initially plans to give abuse victims only until August to file claims.

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Minnesota law gives abuse victims until May of next year to file lawsuits for abuse that happened long ago.

But during a hearing, lawyers for the archdiocese requested a filing deadline of Aug. 3, contending that would help resolve claims faster and lower the cost of its bankruptcy, enabling victims to share funds that could otherwise go to lawyers.

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The archdiocese contends that a deadline of next May would complicate the bankruptcy and increase uncertainty and worry among Twin Cities Catholics.

An August filing date is fair to victims and the archdiocese and provides a bigger claim filing window than allowed in past church bankruptcy cases, archdiocese attorney Charles Rogers said.

"The claims that are timely filed and made by August 3 will then be considered and part of the mediation process," Rogers said.

The archdiocese, abuse victims, insurers, parishes and other parties are now in mediation, trying to devise a plan that ensures the future of the archdiocese and compensates victims.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represents people who have filed abuse claims against the archdiocese, argued for aligning the bankruptcy claims date with the state window for filing abuse lawsuits.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel said he didn't see what victims would gain by having more time. However, Kressel said he would later grant more time, if warranted.

Anderson said it is crucial for abuse victims to come forward so their claims can be considered as part of the bankruptcy. Victims of abuse who don't file might not be compensated later, or could get lesser settlements, he said.

"There is a real urgency for survivors of abuse to know there is a time limit for them to make a claim and come forward," Anderson said. "And when they do, they can ... have their privacy fully protected."

Kressel said he would protect victim privacy by requiring each person reading a claim to sign a confidentiality agreement.

"They need to be assured that nothing they write on a claim form will be made public," the judge said during the hearing.

Anderson said there may be many victims who have not yet decided to make a claim.

"Survivors of sexual abuse by authority figures, clergy included, suffer in silence, blaming themselves, living in fear and rarely disclose it to anybody," he said. "They keep it a secret, a toxic secret, often for decades."

Bob Schwiderski, an abuse victim and former head of the Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he is more bothered by the archdiocese response to victims than the claim deadline.

"They have not done a damn thing, relative to aggressively reaching out to those that have been harmed," Schwiderski said. "They've come up with all these lists of priests and their assignments. Yet they have not stood at the pulpits in those places and reached out."

The archdiocese plans to publicize the Aug. 3 claim filing data extensively, with notices in local and national publications and other media channels.