By: Steve Kelly, Principal in G&E’s Civil Rights Practice

On March 21, 2024, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner issued a historic order permitting survivors to tell their stories in the Baltimore-based bankruptcy proceedings. To our knowledge, this is the first such order in the spate of bankruptcy cases brought on behalf of Catholic dioceses across the country.

Attorneys representing a host of Archdiocese of Baltimore sexual assault survivors asked the court to give survivors an opportunity to tell their stories in court in motions filed earlier this month. Judge Harner’s March 21 Order granting this request is merely the latest in a long line of rulings and statements that reflect the court’s genuine concern that the bankruptcy process not rob survivors of the chance to seek justice.

Judge Harner granted the survivors’ requests and put in place safeguards to protect survivors’ privacy while permitting survivors to tell their stories to the Court and to the Archbishop of Baltimore. The Order reflects the excellent work of the Creditors’ Committee and their counsel and the broader community of survivors in Maryland, who have maintained an active role in the bankruptcy process.

In the fall of 2023, the Archdiocese of Baltimore declared bankruptcy days before the passing of Maryland’s Child Victims Act, which removed the statute of limitations by which survivors could sue their perpetrators. After a long fight, survivors were relieved that the law passed, as many of their claims had been time barred since the alleged abuse happened decades ago.

While most survivors remain frustrated by the Church’s constant attempts to avoid responsibility by invoking bankruptcy and other legal maneuvers, many are relieved that they will get some semblance of their day in court and that the Archbishop will be required to hear their stories.

Chair of the Committee Paul Jan Zdunek said, “In a normal bankruptcy proceeding, you wouldn’t have this kind of testimony. But we felt it was important, as we have from the beginning, to represent the victims — not only from a legal perspective, but also to have their voices be heard.” He continued, “We tend to get caught up, especially for bankruptcy proceedings, with all the legalese, and then we forget about the human side of what has happened here.” The Committee has asked the court to set side two hours for testimony during the April 8th  and May 20th hearings.

While the process is far from perfect, survivors are eager to achieve whatever justice they can within their lifetimes.

Need Someone to Talk to About Your Potential Sexual Abuse Claim? Grant & Eisenhofer Is Here For You

Grant & Eisenhofer is committed to protecting and advocating for the civil rights of individuals across the country. If you or a loved one were sexually assaulted, call our firm at (855) 244-2031 or use our online form to schedule a free, completely confidential consultation.