Crime, Law and Justice

Duluth diocese concludes bankruptcy

Duluth cathedral
Cathedral of Our Lady in Duluth. A federal judge on Monday gave final approval to a bankruptcy plan the Diocese of Duluth said was necessary to compensate clergy sexual abuse victims and continue the church's mission.
Dan Kraker | MPR News File

Scores of child sexual abuse victims in the Diocese of Duluth will soon share tens of millions of dollars in compensation, following a federal judge’s final approval Monday of a bankruptcy reorganization plan for the diocese.

The plan provides abuse survivors with about $40 million and access to the records of priests who molested them.

“The diocese (must) turn over to us and eventually make public thousands of pages of documents on the credibly-accused priests within the Diocese of Duluth,” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney representing victims.

He said the church also agreed to implement broad child protection measures to make sure children are better protected in the future.

“This is a day where the survivors stood up, had their voices heard, had their courage acknowledged in court by the judge, by the bishop and by everybody else that was there,” Finnegan added.

Bishop Paul Sirba said his first thoughts are with the innocent people harmed by clergy.

“While no financial settlement can make up for the harm that was done to them, it can be a form of accountability for the ways the church failed them, and a sign of our solidarity with them and our deep sorrow for what they have suffered,” he said in a news release.

The agreement creates an independently administered trust for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, as well as a fund for any victims of past of clergy sexual abuse who have not yet come forward. The plan also shields the diocese and parishes from future lawsuits for past abuse.

The Diocese of Duluth includes the 10 counties of northeastern Minnesota with more than 45,000 Catholics and 72 parishes.

The diocese filed for bankruptcy in December 2015, saying that was the only way it could compensate clergy sex abuse victims and continue the church's mission. That bankruptcy decision came after a jury ordered the diocese and a Catholic religious order to pay more than $8 million in damages to a man who was sexually abused by a priest.

There are six Catholic dioceses in Minnesota. Crookston is the only one that has not filed for bankruptcy or said it would do so. The Twin Cities archdiocese completed its bankruptcy reorganization last year, providing $210 million to survivors of clergy abuse.