What Another NY Diocese Bankruptcy Filing Means for Sexual Abuse Survivors

by | Jul 20, 2023 | Catholic Church, Firm News

Diocese of Ogdensburg Horowitz Law


Yet another Catholic bishop is essentially saying, “I’d rather take my chances in bankruptcy than in a courthouse. And I’d rather risk having to reveal details about my diocese’s finances rather than reveal details about my diocese’s predators.” He is the Diocese of Ogdensburg’s Bishop Terry LaValley. And he’s filed for federal Chapter 11 protection. Keep in mind who this ‘protection’ is for. It’s not for kids who are still at risk from child molesting clerics who are out in the community, unsupervised and unmonitored, and largely invisible because Bishop LaValley and his predecessors have hidden and are still hiding the names, crimes, and whereabouts of predator priests.

The legal maneuver is for the ‘protection’ primarily of LaValley’s comfort, convenience, and reputation. (It may also be for the ‘protection’ of diocesan finances.) There’s only so much about abuse in Ogdensburg that LaValley can pin on his predecessors. For almost 15 years, he has run the diocese. Back in 2004, he was appointed “to implement and oversee compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and continue his role as chair of the Diocesan Abuse Review Board. Our point: He’s been at the helm for a while and can’t claim to not really know how abuse and cover-up should be handled. How widespread has clergy sexual abuse been in the Ogdensburg Diocese? It’s a tough question to answer because even now, Catholic officials are secretive about these crimes and cover-ups.

But by comparing Ogdensburg to dioceses of similar size (in terms of population), one gets the very clear sense that a higher percentage of Ogdensburg priests assaulted more kids in this upstate diocese than in other dioceses that have roughly as many people. The five dioceses that are slightly larger than Ogdensburg are Salt Lake City, Utah; Burlington, Vermont; Saint Cloud, Minnesota; Boise, Idaho; and Kansas City, Missouri. According to BishopAccountability.org each of these dioceses has and 18, 46, 75, 17, and 41 publicly accused predator priests, respectively.

Ogdensburg is the sixth New York Catholic diocese to file for chapter 11 following 138 sex abuse lawsuits.

The five dioceses that are slightly smaller than Ogdensburg are Saginaw, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Las Cruces, New Mexico and Winona, Minnesota. According to BishopAccountability.org each of these dioceses has 16, 20, 2, 15, and 20 publicly accused predator priests, respectively. Again, that suggests a serious problem in Ogdensburg.

It’s a problem that should be exposed to its fullest if ever those who were directly and indirectly hurt by predator priests and their reckless, callous, and self-serving church supervisors and colleagues. It should also be fully exposed so that those who live or work near now-suspended predator priests can protect themselves and their families. But sadly, this bankruptcy declaration is a problem that will likely remain largely under wraps. And it’s a problem in the present tense. In other words, some Ogdensburg predator priests may still pose threats to children.

For example: Fr. Michael Toth was ordained in 1974; he worked at St. Bernard’s Church in Saranac Lake and St. Cecilia’s Church in Adams, both in New York. In 2006 he obtained a master’s degree in social work in 2006, and since at least 2012, he has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Counseling and Psychotherapy Services of Washington DC. In that role, who knows how many youngsters, teenagers, and vulnerable adults he has had access to and may still be around today? How do we know Fr. Toth is a potential threat? Because in 2018, his name was included on the Ogdensburg diocesan list of 28 priests who were credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor or a vulnerable adult. (Neither the number of alleged victims nor when the alleged abuse occurred was disclosed.) Who knows how many other current and former Ogdensburg area clerics – priests, nuns, seminarians, monks, brothers, or bishops – are also credibly accused molesters and are still alive?

As we have suggested earlier, diocesan bankruptcies are problematic. But a church Chapter 11 move CAN do two helpful things. First, it can help those who live or work near a now-suspended (but likely unsupervised and unmonitored) child molesting cleric protect themselves and their loved ones from a potentially dangerous individual. Second, it can help those who were fondled, raped, or otherwise molested as kids by Ogdensburg Diocesan staff – both ordained or lay people – get some measure of justice, especially financial compensation for their suffering (without some of the disadvantages and risks of filing a civil lawsuit).

Here’s a partial list of credibly accused Ogdensburg predator priests who are still alive: Fr. Fay W. Ager, Fr. Joseph A. Degen, Fr. Ronald J. Farchette, Fr. Bruce T. Favreau, Fr. James M. Larche, Fr. Roland V. Menard, Fr. Thomas D. Squires, and of course Fr. Toth.

Chances are that if you or someone you know was hurt in this way, neither you nor they are well-versed in weighing the pros and cons of filing a claim in court nor what that process entails. So we at Horowitz Law urge you to talk about your options and needs with attorneys who are experienced in this complex area of the law.

The attorneys at Horowitz Law have a long history of representing survivors of child sex abuse.  If you or someone you know was abused by a priest in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, please contact Horowitz Law today for a free consultation. We can help you understand your legal options and fight for the justice you deserve.  Please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected] for a free consultation.