The 51 individual parishes that make up the Diocese of Norwich are being asked to choose either to pay a yet-undetermined sum of money as part of the diocese’s bankruptcy settlement or risk responsibility for both legal fees and the cost of settling any future lawsuit brought against individual parishes.
A committee of three pastors in the Diocese of Norwich, in conjunction with legal counsel, is asking the individual parishes to join the court proceedings as a group, as a way of protecting themselves from potential future lawsuits. In order to do this, each parish will have to pay $5,000 in advance in legal fees, plus an unknown sum of money that will be part of the diocese’s bankruptcy settlement.
Parishes are not required to join the group, which is officially called the Association of Parishes of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. However, Fr. Ted Tumicki, one of the members of the committee, told CT Examiner that he expects that all the parishes will agree to join.
The three priests on the committee — Tumicki, of St. Mary Our Lady of the Rosary in Jewett City, Fr. Laurence LaPointe of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Willimantic and Fr. Dennis Perkins of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Pawcatuck — drafted a letter that was presented to the parishioners of various churches in the diocese this past weekend explaining the reasoning behind the strategy.
In July, the Diocese of Norwich, which spans Windham, Middlesex, Tolland and New London counties, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bishop Michael Cote of the diocese said in a letter released in July that the diocese was unable to pay damages for over 60 claims of abuse alleged to have taken place at the Mount Saint John School, a former residential school in Deep River.
The recent letter explained that when sexual abuse cases have been brought forward in the past, the people who made the claims would typically sue both the diocese as a whole and the individual parish where it occurred. When that happened, the diocese would step in and take care of the costs involved.
“In such a case, the Diocese sought legal counsel on behalf of the parish, negotiated a settlement on behalf of the parish, and paid all the legal expenses of the parish as well as any financial settlement leveled against the parish that was not covered by insurance,” the letter reads.
As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the court will eventually issue an injunction setting a date after which people can no longer sue the Diocese of Norwich for events that happened before July 15, 2021.
The problem, the letter goes on to explain, is that individual parishes then become responsible for their own legal costs and for any settlements if someone should file a lawsuit against a particular parish.
Being included in the injunction would mean that individual parishes, along with the diocese, could no longer be sued for events that happened before July 15, 2021. Tumicki told CT Examiner that this would give the parishes some protection, especially given gaps in insurance coverage.
“The insurance coverage would provide very little, if anything, because the insurance payouts will have been exhausted due to the bankruptcy settlement,” the letter reads.
Tumicki said that joining the injunction would be a two-part process: first, the court would determine the total sum that the group of parishes would have to pay as part of having been included in the injunction. Then, he said, the committee of three pastors who wrote the letter will work together with the pastors of the individual parishes to determine how much each individual parish will pay into that amount.
According to Tumicki, the amount each parish contributes would be pro-rated. He said they are asking pastors to devise a formula to determine how much each parish will pay, but he said one idea might be basing the amount on the annual income of the parish, or on the amount that parishes receive from offering collections. He also said pastors could consider taking out loans from neighboring parishes.
Tumicki did say that parishes could find themselves in difficulty if they were not able to pay their share of the court-ordered sum.
“It does put the parishes in a questionable position if they have trouble coming up with a payment,” he said.
In the case of the $5,000 for legal fees, Tumicki said, each parish will need to decide on a source of funds. Tumicki said that for his three parishes the money would be drawn from either the parish checking or savings account.
Tumicki said that the committee had informed the bishop of the group’s intention to form an association of parishes.
“The bishop has indicated that since we are separate parishes, he will let us do this,” said Tumicki.
The Diocese of Norwich did not respond to a request for comment from CT Examiner.
Counsel for the group Mark A. Mintz of the New Orleans-based firm Jones Walker LLP and local counsel Jeffrey Hellman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Hellman, LLC in New Haven declined to speak with CT Examiner.
A document that Mintz and Hellman filed to the court on Nov. 8 affirms the creation of the Association, which the document said was formed “to address the concerns of the Parishes, to advance the positions of the Parishes as a group, and as necessary to defend the legal interests of the Parishes in the Debtor’s chapter 11 case.”
The court has not yet set a date by which people are required to bring forth claims against the Diocese of Norwich. The next court hearing for the Diocese’s case is scheduled for November 9.