Bishop Clark must testify in bankruptcy case

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Retired Bishop Matthew Clark will be called to testify in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Ruling from the bench today, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Warren denied objections by the bishop’s attorney, Mary Jo Korona, senior counsel with Adams Leclair LLP. The 82-year-old Clark, who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s disease, should not be subjected to a deposition, Korona argued. 

“No, I’ve heard enough,” Warren said, as he cut off Korona’s bid to speak further after he announced his intention to hand down a ruling allowing Clark’s testimony. 

Still, the judge also sharply curtailed the creditors’ committee’s request to depose Clark, severely limiting the time and scope of the exam and allowing only a single examiner to question the bishop.

Expecting to face a flood of sexual-abuse complaints after New York’s passage of the Child Victims Act last year, the Rochester diocese sought Chapter 11 protection in September. The CVA set a one-year window for sexual-abuse survivors who otherwise would have been barred by a statute of limitations to seek damages from their alleged abusers.

Diocese officials have predicted that the diocese could face as many as 1,000 claims and that damages could mount as high as $100 million. Some 200 abuse claimants have come forward so far. The CVA extension expires Aug. 13. The deadline for claimants to file in the Chapter 11 case falls the same day. Diocese officials hope insurance will cover most if not all of whatever payout the local Catholic organization ultimately has to make.  

Creditors committee lawyers filed papers Jan. 24 seeking to depose Clark in a Bankruptcy Court proceeding known as a Rule 2004 exam. 

A popular bishop with liberal leanings, Clark led the diocese from 1979 until 2012. That span dovetails with the period when most of the abuses the diocese is now being called to task for were allegedly committed. In addition to Clark’s sworn testimony, the committee is seeking personal papers and documents such as Clark’s diaries and calendars that would not be included in official diocesan records but could throw light on abuses.   

Korona filed objections Feb. 7 asking Warren to quash the committee’s Rule 2004 exam request. 

“Compelling the testimony of the Bishop Emeritus would very likely be harmful,” she wrote, citing a neurologist’s opinion that Clark would suffer ill effects from being questioned by attorneys.

Writing that he had first diagnosed Clark’s dementia in July 2019, University of Rochester Medical Center neurologist Anthony Maroldo M.D. stated that “this disease causes (Clark) to experience impairment of memory retrieval and impairment of his ability to formulate and express his thoughts verbally and in written communication.” An aide must accompany the bishop at medical appointments “to corroborate or correct the history he provides,” Maroldo added. 

Attorneys representing abuse claimants objected to such characterizations as overstating the extent of Clark’s impairment. Clark had attended a Vatican conference some five months after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis in November, they noted. 

Warren found that though Maroldo detailed Clark’s impairments and ways that testifying might upset the bishop, the physician did not find Clark incompetent and creditors had made a compelling case for requiring the bishop’s testimony. 

With an eye toward Clark’s diagnosis, however, Warren set unusually strict limits on when and how the exam would be conducted, ruling that it must be held within the next 30 days.

Under other terms the judge set, only a single attorney will be allowed to question Clark during a three-hour session that must be concluded in one day. And attorneys representing diocesan insurance carriers, who had asked to participate, cannot take part in or witness the proceeding. In addition, Warren decreed that only a written record of the session will be allowed, disallowing video or audio taping, which is normally standard procedure for such sessions.

Finally, Warren said that he would put himself on call during the proceeding and called for Clark’s aide and physician to attend. If the aide or physician have any disagreement or concern, Warren would personally appear at the session and immediately rule, the judge told the court.

By putting such unusually strict limits on the proceeding, Warren said, “I know victims might think I’m being obstructionist. I’m not. The more people you put in the room, the more likely this will be a train wreck.” 

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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