Archdiocese not compelled to share video of abuse survivors

| July 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis should not be compelled to post to its website or request parishes to show a video produced by sexual abuse claimants, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled July 9.

A committee of abuse victims/survivors participating in the bankruptcy mediation process commissioned the seven-minute video, which features three victims/survivors. The committee, known as the unsecured creditors committee, asked the archdiocese in June to share the video, which was posted to YouTube. It also requested the archdiocese ask parishes to show it in conjunction with weekend Masses July 11-12 and post it to their websites. When the archdiocese declined, the committee asked the court to compel the showing ahead of the Aug. 3 claims filing deadline.

Speaking after a July 9 court hearing on the motion, Charlie Rogers, an attorney representing the archdiocese, said it is not the court’s role to mandate the archdiocese’s pastoral outreach. He emphasized that the archdiocese was fully compliant with the court’s notification order to provide notice of the Aug. 3 deadline for filing claims against the archdiocese.

“Our role in 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.”

Most parishes are likely aware of the video, he added, due to significant online and broadcast news coverage when it was first made public. “Everybody will do what they think is right.”

At the hearing, attorney Robert Kugler, who represents the unsecured creditors’ committee, argued that the video was necessary to advance the court’s objective of providing notice of the Aug. 3 deadline. Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents a group of sexual abuse claimants, supported his argument, saying that the legal notices the archdiocese has shared have not been enough to compel some victims/survivors unknown to the court to come forward.

For the archdiocese, Rogers argued that a new mandate could call into question the sufficiency of the original notification procedures the court established in April. He also said it was problematic for a video to be played in connection with a liturgy.

Four other attorneys representing parish creditors also opposed the motion, citing First Amendment protection from compelled speech and concerns that mandating a video promotion would inappropriately make the court an advocate for a party of the case.

Judge Robert Kressel made a distinction between giving notice about the Aug. 3 deadline, which he said is the court’s role, and advocacy for people to take action.

“This video is not about notice,” he said. Instead, it aims to compel abuse victims/survivors “on the fence” about making claims to come forward.

“Those are two different things,” Kressel stated.

Judge Kressel said it was not the court’s role to give advice to people on how to live their lives, and that counsel was best left to therapists, trusted clergy, family and friends. He also said the motion involved First Amendment issues “that we shouldn’t be wading into,” and appeared to take exception to Kugler’s assertion that the archdiocese’s notification efforts were the minimum required by the court.

“I agree that it is a powerful video,” he said, but added it was something the unsecured creditors’ committee “should not have gotten into.”

The archdiocese entered into Reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in January.

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