ST. PAUL -- It’s not the job of the court to encourage claims against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for clergy sexual abuse, so it won’t require the church to promote a video doing that, a federal bankruptcy judge said Thursday.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel said that he already established guidelines to notify people about the deadline to file claims with the court, but that a video produced by the committee of unsecured creditors - composed primarily of victims - goes beyond the purview of the bankruptcy court and skids into advocacy.
The committee had asked Kressel, who is overseeing the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case, to compel the archdiocese to promote the video, which features three victims who urge other victims to come forward.
The committee said the video, which it asked to be shown during Mass this weekend, was aimed at notifying more people of the impending Aug. 3 deadline to file claims against the church.
Attorneys for the archdiocese and its parishes objected to the request, saying the committee was asking the court to become an advocate and to go beyond its own notification order, which should be sufficient. Church representatives also argued that asking parishes to promote or show the video during Mass raised concerns about the court injecting its power into religious ceremonies.
“This video is predominantly about encouraging people who have been abused to speak out,” Kressel said. “It’s not designed to provide notice of what the claim filing period is. Those are two different things.”
Kressel said the committee had “gotten off track” by “giving advice to victims on how to come to grips with the trauma they’ve suffered.” That’s not the function of the committee or the court or anyone involved with the bankruptcy, he said.
“I agree it’s a powerful video,” Kressel said. “But it’s not something the committee should have produced.”
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in January, citing an operating deficit and concerns about more lawsuits for clergy sexual abuse.
In April, Kressel approved a request by the archdiocese to set an Aug. 3 deadline for anyone wishing to file a claim related to clergy sexual abuse, despite a state law letting them file until May 25, 2016. Legitimate claims filed with the court will likely be part of a settlement to victims.
The archdiocese said it would make efforts to notify people of the court-imposed deadline via news organizations and Catholic publications.
The committee of unsecured creditors, citing concerns about “the formal, legal notices being published,” last week asked the court to compel the archdiocese to have the video shown in all 187 parishes during the weekend of July 11-12 and to have the video published or promoted on parish websites.
Following Thursday’s hearing, attorney Jeff Anderson, who has handled a large number of victims’ cases over 30 years, said he was disappointed - not in the court’s position, but in the archdiocese’s objections.
“There’s no reason for them to refuse to work with us,” Anderson said.
He said the video was not about advocating, but about informing - something he criticized the archdiocese for not doing enough of.
“This isn’t an ordinary bankruptcy case about money. … It’s about survivors,” Anderson said. “And there’s a clock ticking here. We’re going to do what needs to be done in the time left.”
Archdiocese attorney Charlie Rogers said the chancery is fully compliant with the court’s original order outlining how notice should be given. He said nearly $200,000 has been spent on notification efforts.
“Our role, from the bankruptcy realm, is to provide notice,” he said. “We’re not to be advocates, we’re not to be psychiatrists, we’re not to be counselors.”
To see the video, go to pioneerpr.es/mSgI1p