Two dioceses in the state of California have declared bankruptcy following an influx of claims filed against the Catholic church for alleged childhood sexual abuse.
Over 3,000 cases have been filed after a state law allowed alleged victims to take legal action up to the age of 40. The 2019 legislation temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits against institutions accused of enabling abuse.
The Diocese of Santa Rosa filed for bankruptcy protection in March, after receiving more than 200 lawsuits from alleged victims. The diocese, which estimates its assets between $10-50 million has already paid $35 million in settlements.
Speaking at the time, Bishop Robert F. Vasa advised that bankruptcy would “provide a process to carefully evaluate and compensate, as fairly as possible, those who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.”
“Chapter 11 is a process designed to bring all parties together in one place to resolve difficult claims fairly and finally, under the supervision of the bankruptcy court,” he said in a statement.
“The Diocese and its various parishes continue to be vigilant in fostering safe environments for all of our children, in screening all employees and volunteers and in periodically reviewing our Diocesan Policy for the Protection of Children and Youth,” he added.
The Diocese of Oakland also filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month, making it the second in its state to do so, in an effort to stabilize its finances following some 330 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.
Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber said the decision had been made after “considerable consultation and much prayer.”
“We made the filing because we believe this process is the best way to support a compassionate and equitable outcome for survivors of abuse,” he said in a statement.
At least a third of California's twelve dioceses have or are contemplating bankruptcy according to reports from Christianity Today.
In February, the Diocese of San Diego announced it was also considering bankruptcy in the wake of pending abuse claims to “provide a pathway for ensuring that the assets of the Diocese will be used equitably to compensate all victims of sexual abuse.”
In a statement it said the diocese had received approximately 400 suits “seeking monetary damages for alleged acts of sexual abuse by priests, religious and laity” since the new legislation was introduced.
“The majority of these suits concern actions that took place more than half a century ago”, Robert Cardinal McElroy, Bishop of San Diego said.
“The sexual abuse of minors by priests and the way it was handled in the life of the Church constitute the greatest sin of our Church in the last century. We must and will continue to protect minors with ever deeper vigor, provide healing resources to those who have been abused, and use our Diocesan assets to compensate those who were victimized. And we will never forget the harm that we have done,” he added.
Rick Simons, a lawyer serving as the plaintiffs' liaison for cases in Northern California, told Christianity Today approximately 1,600 cases have been filed against the Catholic Church in that region and claims the dioceses are addressing these cases, "as they always have, by avoidance.
"[The Bishops] say sympathetic words of responsibility and empathy for the victims in their public statements, and all their actions are exactly the opposite," Simons claims, as he works to get cases prepared for trial
A letter is being drafted by the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) calling on Attorney General of the State of California, Rob Bonta, to ensure the bankruptcies are closely examined and a report on the lawsuits is issued.