Deadline for sexual abuse claims against Maryland’s Catholic Church approaches Friday due to bankruptcy filing

The law was approved by Maryland lawmakers in April 2023, just days after a report on sexual abuse of the Maryland Catholic Church was released by the Maryland Attorney General, detailing Catholic priests who have sexually assaulted children over the past 60 years. Maryland, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others affiliated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses who came forward during the investigation.

Since its enactment, a flood of lawsuits have been filed, many of these cases against the Catholic Church. However, similar complaints have been filed against several private schools in Maryland, the state’s juvenile justice system and other individuals responsible for exposing children to known sexual predators even when the attacks occurred decades ago.

To date, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is dealing with approximately 320 lawsuits. However, several hundred additional claims are likely to be filed before the bankruptcy deadline later this week, with some forecasts indicating that more than 1,000 cases could be filed by May 31.

After all lawsuits are filed, the next phase of the bankruptcy process will include mediation to determine how much the church will have to pay to resolve the sexual abuse claims. These mediations are expected to begin sometime this summer. Once that phase is complete, a committee representing survivors will determine how to categorize the claims, which all survivors can vote on before they are approved.

Maryland Child Victims Act challenged

Even though the law has been passed and has already gone into effect, some of those facing child abuse lawsuits as a result of Maryland’s new law are challenging its constitutionality, claiming that lifting the statute of limitations violates the protection of a fair trial.

Maryland law contains a provision that allows summary judgment immediately upon any order denying a motion to dismiss based on the defense that Maryland’s statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislature action that revives the claim, unconstitutional.

Summary judgment allows the higher courts to hear the case before a final decision is made in court. While this measure will cause significant delays before sexual assault survivors can receive justice, it will also eliminate the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.

The state has been prepared for such a challenge since the law was originally passed and Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown vowed to defend the constitutionality of the state law. Brown’s office filed a brief in support of the law’s early challenges.

At least two justices have already called for constitutionality issues against the new law to be referred to the Maryland Supreme Court as soon as possible so that a ruling on the law’s legality can be made as soon as possible.

Observers believe the Maryland Supreme Court will hear the appeal before the end of the year.

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