We cover accidents, not concealed conduct, insurer tells Diocese of New Jersey

We cover accidents, not concealed conduct, insurer tells Diocese of New Jersey

The Diocese of Trenton, which has been sued by more than 500 people who claim they were sexually abused by clergy as children, is now being sued by the insurance company providing its liability coverage.

With the potential for millions in damages, Century Indemnity, which has written insurance policies for the diocese for years, has filed a declaratory lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that it is being obstructed in seeking information about the cases being litigated.

“Century’s insurance policies cover accidents, not behavior that was tolerated or hidden,” the company said in a statement. “The diocese has failed to provide the required documentation to prove its right to receive coverage under the policies. We are filing this action so that we can obtain the information required to evaluate the claims.

A diocese spokeswoman did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Hundreds of civil lawsuits have been filed in New Jersey after the state opened a two-year period that was closed in 2021, significantly extending the time victims of sexual assault have to file a lawsuit.

New Jersey law waives the statute of limitations for suing. The law also allows adults who were abused as children to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55, or seven years after they discover they were abused. This targeted not only the individuals who allegedly committed sexual assaults, but also the churches, sports organizations, schools and community organizations for which they worked.

In most of these cases, a cleric or religious institution was named as a defendant.

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been at the center of a number of those cases involving allegations of abuse related to incidents dating back to when he was Archbishop of Newark, and even earlier when he served as bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen.

And in the Diocese of Camden, an $87.5 million settlement was reached with more than 300 child victims of clergy sexual abuse — in what some called one of the largest cash payments of its kind.

Negotiated amid an ongoing bankruptcy case filed by the diocese in 2020 as it grappled with mounting debt after a flood of abuse victims sought compensation under New Jersey’s Independent Victim Compensation Program, that settlement was put on hold last year after a U.S. bankruptcy judge said… The proposal could put insurers on the hook for inflated or invalid claims. These victims, all of whom are now adults, had filed claims as part of federal bankruptcy proceedings.

According to the lawsuit filed by the insurance company for the Diocese of Camden in New Jersey, the complaints filed against the church allege intentional conduct and suggest that the diocese had “extensive institutional knowledge of the problem of sexual abuse.”

She also cited publicly available sources, including Bruce Novozinski’s 2012 memoir, The Purple Covenant: Sexual Abuse and Abuse of Power in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, Which alleged a “vicious culture of predatory child abuse” where people in positions of power acted “to protect abusers and to silence and intimidate victims and their families.”

“Details of the abuse were kept under lock and key in ‘secret files’ hidden from public view,” the complaint said.

“At no time prior to the issuance of any of the insurance policies, did any person acting on behalf of the Diocese advise Century of the then-existing and known problem of sexual harassment by persons in positions of power and authority within the Catholic Church,” the lawsuit complained. “Indeed, to this day, the Diocese has never provided Century with a full account of the problem and extent of sexual abuse committed by Diocesan employees and agents.”

The insurance company said it also requested general information from the diocese about the history of sexual abuse within the diocese, including information about policies and practices related to handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and the diocese’s knowledge of the scope and prevalence of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse by clergy, and whether the diocese anticipates acts of sexual abuse.

She said the declaratory judgment action was filed to obtain records from the diocese regarding the facts relating to coverage of the claims brought against her.

It is seeking a declaration that Century has no obligation to indemnify the Diocese or any individual parishes or schools for any claims to the extent that the claim is not a covered incident, or the Diocese’s failure to comply with the terms of the relevant policies.


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Ted Sherman can be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @tedshermansl

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