Clergy sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis poured in as the 5 p.m. deadline approached Monday. By the end of the day, the scope of the church’s problem was more clear: Attorneys counted more than 400 claims.
Attorneys representing sex abuse victims had been working around the clock to prepare the claims, stemming from the sexual abuse of children by dozens of Catholic priests over decades.
“It’s been very busy, both over the weekend and today,” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney with the St. Paul law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of questions, some breaking their silence for the first time.”
An official count was not available from the bankruptcy court as of the filing deadline, but 370 claims had been filed as of Monday morning.
Finnegan said the 400 claims tallied represent the third highest number filed against a Catholic institution in bankruptcy. That is partly due to the large number of Catholics in the archdiocese, he said. There are about 800,000 Catholics in the 12-county metro area.
More than 550 claims were filed against the Milwaukee archdiocese, Finnegan said, as well as against the Jesuits of the Oregon Province, who serve Alaska and the northwest United States.
While the archdioceses of Boston and Los Angeles also had more than 500 claims, they did not file bankruptcy, he said.
The Anderson law firm, which handled the vast majority of claims, had staff stationed at the courthouse later in the day to expedite any last-minute filings. Minneapolis attorney Patrick Noaker, who represented more than a dozen victims, reported he filed his last two cases Monday morning.
The surge in abuse claims is the result of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which has allowed older claims of child sex abuse previously barred by statutes of limitations to have their day in court. The flood of claims against the archdiocese, which now has acknowledged more than 60 priest sex offenders, spurred the archdiocese to file bankruptcy earlier this year.
Bankruptcy court judge Robert Kressel ordered an Aug. 3 deadline for filing claims against the archdiocese, in an effort to speed up the archdiocese’s financial reorganization. However, victims of sex abuse by any other Catholic diocese or institution in Minnesota have until May 25, 2016, to file their claims.
Victims’ attorneys had sought to push the deadline for the archdiocese back to the statewide deadline, but last week Kressel reaffirmed his decision to move that timetable up. He said potential litigants had received adequate notice of the August date.
With the deadline over, the archdiocese and its insurers will be reviewing the claims. The bankruptcy court also will continue to work on determining the archdiocese’s assets and the extent of insurance coverage of the claims, said Noaker.
“The discussion of insurance will be front and center,” said Noaker.
A victims fund will be established based on the insurance and assets, which will finance the settlement of the claims.
Meanwhile, victims who have filed with the Anderson law firm can be connected to therapists and other support services through their firm’s victims advocate, said Finnegan.