Nearly 90 claims of clergy sexual abuse were on record shortly before yesterday's court-imposed deadline for filing nearly all such claims in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson's bankruptcy proceedings. The abuse claims comprised more than one-third of some 230 total creditor claims - collectively seeking more than $21.5 million - that were filed before 4 p.m., the cutoff time set by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge six months ago.
Susan Boswell, principal bankruptcy lawyer for the diocese, said she did not have a final number of claims filed because there were some duplicate claims, but that she would be give a status report to Judge James Marlar on Tuesday.
Thirty of the sex abuse claims were filed on behalf of clients represented by Tucson attorneys Lynne Cadigan and Kim Williamson, who have sued the diocese over allegations that their clients were molested by priests or other clergy.
A number of the diocese's 75 parishes have filed claims for indemnification and for money being held by the diocese.
The diocese contends that under canon law, the parishes are not considered the property of the diocese, but at least 11 of the parishes have been named as defendants along with the diocese in lawsuits and potentially face bankruptcy proceedings.
The diocese maintains that though the parishes may be listed in civil records as being owned by the diocese because of secular legal requirements, in reality it holds those properties in trust for the parishes' members.
Parishes and religious orders within the diocese filed claims totaling at least nearly $7.6 million, but lawyers for sex abuse victims are challenging that.
"I don't think the parish debt is valid debt," Cadigan said. "But we have sued the parishes as well as the diocese, so we don't care if they're separate or they're not separate. So the parishes will have to file bankruptcy."
The Catholic Order of Foresters is the creditor seeking the largest specified amount in two claims: nearly $10.3 million.
The diocese in September became the second in the country to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization protection, after the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in the face of continuing litigation over sexual abuse claims by priests.
Some allegations of wrongdoing in the Tucson diocese date back several decades.
Two court-appointed attorneys - A. Bates Butler, representing unknown claimants, and Charles Arnold, the guardian ad litem representing minor children who were abuse victims - filed documents saying the number of prospective clients remained unknown.
Prospective clients are the only ones not affected by yesterday's filing deadline.