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Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 08:01 UK

Bankruptcy move delays abuse case

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful at St Peter's square
The Pope has been highly critical of the US Church's handling of abuse cases

A Catholic diocese based in the state of Delaware has filed for US bankruptcy protection on the eve of a civil trial involving high-profile sex abuse.

The move automatically delays the case, the seventh of its kind in the US since a scandal in Boston seven years ago.

The bishop of the diocese said the move offered the best chance for victims of sexual abuse to be treated fairly.

But an attorney for the victims said the action was a desperate attempt to hide the truth from the public.

The case, due to be heard on Monday, would have been the first to go to trial under a state law creating a two-year window allowing claims to be brought even if the statute of limitations had expired.

'Cover-up'

About 230,000 Catholics live in the Wilmington diocese, which covers Delaware and eastern Maryland.

"This is a painful decision, one that I had hoped and prayed I would never have to make," Bishop W Francis Malooly said in a statement on the diocese's website.

He said that talks with the eight victims bringing Monday's case had broken down, and there were fears that too large a settlement would leave the diocese without sufficient resources to compensate another 133 people with outstanding claims.

"Filing for Chapter 11 [bankruptcy protection] offers the best opportunity, given finite resources, to provide the fairest possible treatment of all victims of sexual abuse by priests of our diocese," he said.

But Thomas Neuberger, a lawyer representing 88 of the victims, said the purpose of the bankruptcy filing was to conceal "thousands of pages of scandalous documents" and vowed to contest the move.

"This filing is the latest, sad chapter in the diocese's decades-long 'cover-up' of these despicable crimes, to maintain the secrecy surrounding its responsibility and complicity in the sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children," he said in a statement, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Wilmington is the seventh diocese to seek bankruptcy protection since an abuse scandal in Boston archdiocese in 2002.

It has so far paid out $6.2m (£3.79m) to settle sexual abuse cases and has settled with other victims who did not go to court.

The largest pay-out to date was by the Los Angeles archdiocese, which settled 508 cases with $660m in July 2007.



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