On Saturday, the New York Times published an editorial about Cardinal Law’s resignation. They pull no punches accusing him of “stonewalling”, of having “misplaced allegiance”. But I think they miss the point when discussing bankruptcy and hit on something I think a lot of people have been getting wrong.
- In a further misuse of his power, he threatened to have the archdiocese file for bankruptcy as a means of freezing the scores of lawsuits filed by sexual-abuse victims.
The archdiocese was not considering filing for bankruptcy, but for bankruptcy protection. In bankruptcy, you’re done. Liquidate the assets, send the employees home, that’s it. Bankruptcy protection is designed to prevent that and to ensure that all creditors—employees, lenders, vendors, and even litigants get at least a portion of what’s coming to them. The bankruptcy court organizes the creditors in order of priority and uses some of the assets and receivables to compensate them. Maybe they won’t get everything they’re owed, but they get something.
I’ve seen people say that filing for bankruptcy would be immoral because it would be trying to avoid giving people their due. It would be, if that’s what the archdiocese were thinking about doing. But bankruptcy protection ensures that people will get some, if not all, of what they’re due and it will be an impartial third-party who makes sure that happens.
It raises the corollary question of how much money is owed to the victims? Who decides what is just compensation? How much is their innocence worth? How much does peace of mind cost? Or is the goal simply to punish those who abused them and those who did nothing to prevent that abuse? If it is, then they’re missing the mark. Cardinal Law and the “see-no-evil, hear-no-evil” bishops under him won’t be paying a penny of any settlement. So who pays? Every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Boston. Long after Cardinal Law is residing in Rome working at a small Vatican dicastery, we will be wondering why we don’t have a vibrant youth ministry any more and why we can’t find a retreat center and why our local parish has closed despite its vibrant community.
The money and assets of the archdiocese do not belong to the bishops and priests alone, but is held in trust for us, the laypeople. I’m not against compensating the victims, but at what cost to us and our children.
By the way, it looks like bankruptcy protection is off the table in any case since the Vatican said no.