After a lawyer representing victim-survivors claimed the Diocese of Albany was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate holdings, the Diocese responded to the claims Jan. 13, calling the report “speculative” and “exaggerated.”

Cynthia S. LaFave, of LaFave Wein & Frament, dropped the multi-million dollar bombshell during a conference call on Jan. 11 between long-time diocesan counsel Michael Costello and lawyers representing victim-survivors who have filed cases against the Diocese under the Child Victims Act (CVA). 

LaFave said that Jeff Anderson, whose law firm of Anderson and Associates is working together with LaFave and her firm on 190 cases against the Diocese, had commissioned the report which said the Diocese has real estate holdings with an assessed market value of nearly $500 million. There has long been an assumption that dioceses in the United States are sitting on millions of dollars that they can tap into on a whim or can just make a call to the Vatican and ask for a blank check. During the conference call overseen by State Supreme Court Judge L. Michael Mackey, Costello called the assertion “astonishing” and “befuddling.”

The Evangelist received the 87-page report on Jan. 13, which detailed every property owned by the 126 parishes and missions in the 14 counties of the Diocese of Albany, many of which are not named in CVA cases. 

According to the Anderson report, there are 489 parcels owned by these parishes and missions with a total assessed value of $273,741,194 and a market value of $403,690,901. There were 29 other parcels owned by Catholic organizations, such as Catholic Charities, which the report claims would bring a total assessed value of $93,945,100 and a market value of $118,669,872. For example, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and its adjacent properties, according to the report, has an assessed value of $7.6 million and a market value of over $10.5 million. 

“(The report) presents major concerns and issues regarding its conclusory findings. The report conflates properties of unrelated, separate entities; entities that have never been involved in CVA cases. It references highly speculative and exaggerated assessed and market values which do not reflect fair market value,” The Diocese said in a statement Jan. 13. 

The properties which the report said are owned specifically by the Diocese of Albany are eight parcels with an assessed value of $79,570,400 and a market value of $99,806,144. These properties include 40 N. Main, which is the home of the Pastoral Center, and 200 Washington Ave., which is the home of Teresian House. The report states the assessed value of the Pastoral Center is $9,248,600 with a market value of $11,601,355, while those figures for Teresian House are $68,145,800 (assessed) and $85,481,435 (market).

“The premise of the report that those values would be available to pay CVA claims is incorrect,” the diocesan statement added. “Further, it is important to recognize that religious organizations have a constitutional right of free exercise to continue their mission and ministry and their properties from a legal and practical perspective, essential to mission, would never have to be sold.”

The Diocese has always been open to having an independent firm calculate its assets in the name of full transparency during the mediation process. Berkeley Research Group, (BRG), a global consulting firm, was first tasked with the job but exorbitant fees did not make that feasible. Costello said another unnamed firm was also offered to the Plaintiff Liaison Committee (PLC) - a group of lawyers representing clients who filed abuse claims under the CVA against the Diocese - as an alternative but it was not accepted. (Note: On the diocesan website, anyone can head to rcda.org/offices/finance-office to see independent auditor reports for the last six years that detail the Diocese’s assets and liabilities).

LaFave’s assertion on Jan. 11 seemingly was in response to Costello who started the conference call by saying that the Diocese delivered an “enhanced offer” to the PLC and mediator Simone Lelchuck on Dec. 29. The offer is money that the Diocese and co-defendant parishes and schools would put into a fund or pot - along with a substantial commitment from diocesan insurance carriers which has yet to be determined - to fund settlements with victim-survivors. 

Costello said that on Jan. 9 he received an email from Lelchuck, who was one of two co-mediators before a frustrated Paul Finn abruptly quit the meditation in November, saying that this new offer - the first offer was rejected by the PLC - was also shot down and the PLC “no longer exists and is disbanded.” LaFave added the enhanced offer was “not in the realm of reason.”

Costello said he was “profoundly” disappointed that global mediation has ended with plaintiff-attorneys because it was a fair and timely way for victim-survivors to mediate their cases, adding that the Diocese continues to work in “good faith” to find resolution to the hundreds of claims against it. Costello also asked Mackey to appoint an independent examiner to make sure the mediation process was still viable.

As global mediation has seemingly come to an end for now, Costello said that he, Mackey and attorneys representing victim-survivors have begun mediation on blocks of cases - some 90 cases in the first conference - because “we must continue on another track contingent on insurers’ participation and the limited resources of the Diocese.”

Mackey seemed encouraged by this development, saying that mediating the blocks of cases or as he said “bite-sized cases” all had something in common: either there was no insurance coverage in one block, or the same insurer represented another block of cases. The theory being it would be easier and quicker to resolve the cases. Mackey added that 10 percent of the cases so far have been settled, with cases on the trial calendar resolved before going to trial or cases in discovery settled as well. 

“This may prove to be workable as an alternative to global mediation,” Mackey added. The upcoming conferences with smaller groups, he said, could “rekindle interest in a global mediation” that for now “the two sides are so far apart that both sides are wasting their time.”

Costello added the January case set to go to trial was resolved and the next trial is set for February. The next conference call between the Diocese and plaintiff-attorneys is set for March 27.