Advocates Not Pleased About Potential Bankruptcy Filing

Belief is that filing will limit the discovery process

Brendan Keany
December 16, 2019 - 12:01 am
James Faluszczak

(WBEN Photo/Brendan Keany)

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BUFFALO (WBEN) - Although a major battle for many local victims advocates with the resignation of former Bishop Richard Malone last week, the war appears to be far from over as the Buffalo Diocese enters a period of transition.

"Even with this change in leadership, the Diocese of Buffalo and multiple other dioceses in the State of New York and New Jersey, are being held hostage by a foreign power and are being held hostage by the church's own internal procedures that are defined in canon law that really constrain at our ability to get at the truth," said prominent advocate James Faluszczak at a press conference outside the Diocese on Friday morning.

Faluszczak then called out Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who's currently serving as apostolic administrator in Buffalo, saying that he has sent mixed messages since his introductory press conference.

"Bishop Scharfenberger...has alternatingly said that he doesn't know much about this Diocese, that he is a blank slate," he began. "At first, he suggested that he had not seen the Vatican report into Bishop Malone, but this week he's starting to make substantial comments along these lines, and is not only not denying that he's read the report, which we believe he has by this point, he's saying it's not his property - he's not able to provide that to the Diocese of Buffalo, to the good people here. So, he's trying to plead ignorance on the one hand that he's new and he doesn't know a lot, but he's got this hair-trigger reaction to declare bankruptcy."

And bankruptcy is something that Faluszczak and attorney Paul Barr want absolutely nothing to do with, even though they believe it's inevitable at this point.

"With regard to the imminent bankruptcy...the interim bishop has said that he doesn't know a lot about this Diocese, yet he does anticipate a bankruptcy, which indicates he does know about the finances, which says to me that's what they're interested in," said Barr. "They're interested in the financial situation and predicament, not the situation that survivors are in of abuse by priests."

There has been some confusion regarding a potential bankruptcy filing going back several months. Some attorneys and advocates, like Barr and Faluszczak, believe that the Diocese should completely steer clear of filing because it does a disservice to victims. However, prominent Boston sex abuse attorney Mitchell Garabedian has indicated that it can sometimes be a good thing for certain dioceses, as it allows them to reorganize while still being able to handle the day-to-day operations. The cases would be transferred from state court to civil court if the Diocese were to file, but Garabedian argues that it shouldn't matter what setting in which cases are litigated because the truth will come out either way.

However, Barr disagrees with that stance.

"The facts will be heard in the sense that a survivor can tell his or her story, but it shuts down the discovery process, so it shuts down the subpoena power that attorneys have," said Barr. "We won't be able to get the actual church documents. The survivor will tell their story to a bankruptcy trustee, and the trustee will determine the credibility and the award."

Faluszczak says it's not a good look.

"Bishop Scharfenberger says that he doesn't have enough information, he hasn't been here long enough to yet speak about any of the priest cases, any of the alleged priest abusers," he said. "By making that statement, and then saying essentially in the same breath that he's ready to declare bankruptcy, that it appears to be inevitable, suggests that he doesn't care about discovery, it suggests he doesn't really care about the opportunity for victims...to get access to diocesan files - bankruptcy will short circuit that process."

Listen to the full press conference below:

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