US religious order files for bankruptcy

Fri, Apr 29, 2011, 01:00

The North American branch of the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order that runs schools around the world, has filed for bankruptcy protection amid mounting sexual abuse claims against US and Canadian members.

Although the bankruptcy filing was made in New York, where the brothers' North American chapter is headquartered, the bulk of the abuse claims come from the Seattle area, said Michael Patterson, a lawyer for the Catholic Archdiocese in Seattle.

"It's a sad day. We're very disappointed that it reached this level," Mr Patterson said last night.

"We had hoped that we could have partnered with the Christian Brothers to settle claims. What this means is that victims now have to deal with this out of bankruptcy court." He said he did not know the extent of the claims.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Christian Brothers said its members, who are not ordained as priests, sexually abused scores of children in the United States and Canada.

Seattle attorney Michael Pfau said yesterday he has settled more than 50 abuse cases for a total of $25.6 million, paid out to victims in the last five years by the order and the Seattle Archdiocese.

About 35 of those cases originated with the now-defunct Briscoe Memorial School, an orphanage and boarding school jointly run by the archdiocese and Christian Brothers in Kent, Washington.

"There were rapes, molestations and beatings. The brothers carried long leather straps. It was a very abusive place," Mr Pfau said.

Most lawsuits still pending involve allegations of sexual abuse at schools and orphanages the Brothers owned and operated in Washington state and Canada, he said, adding that the order filed for bankruptcy in a bid to shield its assets in Rome.

"They made money taking over the care of children but put many of their members who were known abusers in charge of them," Mr Pfau said.

"Then they tried to cover it up. This bankruptcy is just another effort for them to avoid responsibility." A spokesman for the order reached by telephone declined to comment.

The bankruptcy filing comes weeks after the Pacific Northwest branch of another Catholic order, the Jesuits, agreed to pay $166 million to settle more than 500 child sexual abuse claims against priests, nuns and other non-clergy.

Last year, the Congregation of Christian Brothers came under fire over a report by the government of Ireland finding widespread sexual abuse of children in schools and other institutions run by the order in that country.

Reuters