As Illinois reckons with new findings that, in May, identified nearly 2,000 child sexual abuse claims against Catholic clergy in the state, the San Francisco Archdiocese announced on Friday that it’s “very likely” to file for bankruptcy, and is attributing its financial ruin to a recent onslaught of child sexual abuse lawsuits against its priests and other employees spanning decades.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the San Francisco-based Catholic church faced more than 500 civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse filed between 2020 and 2022. These lawsuits came as California temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on abuse allegations against churches and other institutions.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone wrote in an open letter on Friday that by filing for bankruptcy, the archdiocese will be able “to deal with the hundreds of cases collectively rather than one at a time” and “reorganize its financial affairs to continue its vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity.” Cordileone also went so far as to call child sexual abuse within the church “very rare,” claiming “the vast majority of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and involved priests who are deceased or no longer in ministry.”
A survivors’ rights group called SNAP has already condemned this approach and much of Cordileone’s statements, claiming the San Francisco Archdiocese is misrepresenting its finances to undercut victims and conceal the full extent of the allegations it faces from coming to light. SNAP went so far as to frame the church’s impending bankruptcy filing as a “ruse” to “pretend that they are out of money.”
“Everything about the bankruptcies of Catholic dioceses strikes us as wrong,” the group said in a statement. “It is all about protecting secrets first, and second, to reduce just compensation to the victims they have created.” The statement further notes that “San Francisco is one of a handful of dioceses that has not published a list of abusers.”
As for Cordileone’s frankly bogus claim that child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is “very rare,” the fact that the San Francisco Archdiocese alone faces hundreds of lawsuits speaks for itself. Other numbers across the country are just as staggering. Elsewhere in the world, an independent inquiry in 2021 concluded there were about 216,000 victims of sexual abuse carried out by the French Catholic Church’s clergy between 1950 and 2020. This, mind you, all while the Catholic Church continues to rail against abortion and queer people as the threat to children’s safety, in perhaps the ultimate act of deflection.
In addition to the San Francisco Archdiocese, dioceses across the state have also filed bankruptcy after being hit with a smattering of roughly 3,000 child sexual abuse lawsuits during the window when California lifted its statute of limitations. The diocese in Oakland, Santa Rosa, Sacramento, and San Diego have all either declared bankruptcy or announced that they’re considering doing so due to the costs of sexual abuse-related lawsuits.
“A bankruptcy would have many advantages for Archbishop Cordileone,” SNAP concludes in its statement. “For those who suffered from crimes committed in the Archdiocese, there is no upside to this cruel and, in our opinion, unjustified legal tactic.”