Hundreds of sexual abuse cases force the San Francisco Catholic Church to declare bankruptcy. Through a statement, the heads of 88 parishes in three bay counties have announced the decision. They argue that the process is necessary, as it will help them “manage and resolve” in court more than 500 complaints of sexual crimes perpetrated by their religious and occurred between the 1960s and 1980s. The legal strategy, known as Chapter 11 in US legislation, it has been greatly aided by other archdioceses facing the same problem.
“The unfortunate reality is that the archdiocese has neither the sufficient resources nor the practical ability to individually litigate all these claims of sexual abuse,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in the Church statement, which was made public on the night of Monday. “It is the best way to give the survivors the much-needed resolution,” added the religious. Most of these cases are resolved in the United States through out-of-court settlements, a way in which those responsible for the crimes avoid a public trial that can expose lurid details.
The archdiocese has informed that the process, which will take place in the judicial district of northern California, allows each of the lawsuits to be evaluated on its own merits, something that is intended to add “transparency” in the payment of damages to the victims of clerical pedophilia. “This is a process supervised by the court (…) that gives a voice to those who claim,” the document states. The diocese affirms that all the cases are old and involve priests “who no longer exercise the ministry or who have died.”
Cordileone has taken advantage of the announcement to ensure that today “they are very rare” cases of abuse. “Thanks to the education and prevention measures that we have put in place, I think the Church has set an example for other organizations of the standards, which shows what can and should be done to protect our children,” she said. Among the measures adopted was the background analysis of all the pastors and social workers who came to the parishes, the implementation of therapies and assistance to survivors of abuse, in addition to the removal of the ministry of the indicated religious. The archbishop says his diocese, which serves some 442,000 Catholics, began making changes even before General Convention adopted a plan to protect minors in 2002.
This is the second time the local Catholic Church has faced such a wave of lawsuits. The California government created a window twenty years ago that allowed survivors to go to court to report abuses that had prescribed in the judicial system. The local Executive, taking advantage of the claims of the MeToo movement, resorted in 2019 to inaugurating a similar period for the victims to undertake legal claims through civil proceedings. The term was valid until December 31 of last year. According to the archdiocese, “a significant number of the lawsuits involve anonymous or unnamed individuals.”
According to the archdiocese, these two moments caused the Catholic Church to spend some 70 million dollars to reach out-of-court settlements with survivors of abuse. This money was obtained through the use of insurance premiums and with the sale of properties that the institution had in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. Monsignor Cordileone affirms that the contributions and alms that parishioners give will not be used to resolve the abuse claims. “According to a very old legal and moral principle, the intention of the donor must always be respected,” explains the archbishop in another letter.
This is the third diocese in the San Francisco area to have to file for bankruptcy to deal with an avalanche of allegations. This same year, the Catholic representations in the city of Oakland and Santa Rosa adopted the same path. The one in Oakland faces some 330 alleged cases of clerical pedophilia, while Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, says it has pending settlement of some 150 lawsuits filed in recent years. In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in California, paid a record $660 million in compensation to victims of clerical abuse. It is only one of 22 dioceses that have reached million-dollar out-of-court settlements with the survivors of these crimes.
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