- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Hobbled by waves of sexual abuse lawsuits against clergy members and unable to hold services during the coronavirus emergency, the 227-year-old Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy protection Friday.

The announcement leaked Thursday evening after Archbishop Gregory Aymond met with more than 100 Roman Catholic clergy members in Metairie, just outside of New Orleans, and delivered the grim news, according to nola.com.

On Friday morning, the venerable institution that has loomed large over southeastern Louisiana for centuries confirmed the reports.

“The move was necessitated by the growing financial strain caused by litigation stemming from decades-old incidents of clergy abuse as well as ongoing budget challenges,” the church announced. “The unforseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have added more financial hardships to an already difficult situation.”

The New Orleans Archdiocese currently ministers to an estimated half-million people, has not been able to stabilize its finances with the cost of unresolved clergy-abuse lawsuits still mounting.

Similar financial calamity has hit more than two dozen other American dioceses and Catholic religious orders in the 21st century as the church grapples with the fallout from decades of harboring pedophile priests among its clergy.

The archbishop had earlier assured ecclesiastical officials that the announcement would not curtail church operations in and around New Orleans. The church’s profile there is already streamlined, as it was forced to close churches and consolidate operations after Hurricane Katrina left much of the city underwater in 2005.

The archdiocese’s schools, which have long nurtured the cream of New Orleans’ political class and many of its leading business figures, will also continue operations, according to the church.

“This filing only affects the Archdiocesan administrative offices,” the church’s Friday statement read. “The Archdiocese’s action will not affect individual church parishes, their schools, schools run by the various religious orders, or ministries of the church. These offices will continue daily ministry as usual.

Eventually, then, Mass will still be celebrated as usual, too, although it is clear part of the archdiocese’s financial troubles are tied to the fact its churches have not passed collection plates in weeks.

Louisiana’s shelter-in-place rules have made it impossible for churches of any denomination to hold traditional services inside their facilities, and this week Gov. John Bel Edwards announced an extension of those rules until May 15.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has vowed to enforce shutdown restrictions even more onerous than those outlined by Mr. Edwards, leaving the Archdiocese in a difficult position.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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