With a substantial 330 sexual abuse lawsuits looming against their priests, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, hoping to stem financial losses from all these abuse cases.
We learned in March that that Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland was considering declaring bankruptcy, as the organization admitted it had “approximately 330 lawsuits filed against our diocese” for priests and clergy people committing sexual abuse. And the Chronicle reports that on Monday, the diocese did file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“After careful consideration of the various alternatives for providing just compensation to innocent people who were harmed, we believe this process is the best way to ensure a fair and equitable outcome for survivors,” the diocese’s Bishop Michael Barber said in a statement. “Given our current financial resources, [the Roman Catholic Bishop of Oakland] could not shoulder the burden of litigating 330 cases.”
These days, the diocese is best known for powerhouse sports high schools like Bishop O'Dowd High School and De La Salle High in Concord — though oddly, those schools are structured as separate legal entities and would be unaffected by the bankruptcy. But according to the bankruptcy filing, the diocese has between $100 million and $500 million in assets, though expects to have at least that much in pending legal damage too.
And survivors say the bankruptcy filing is a cop-out. “These bankruptcy actions are really designed to stiff-arm survivors by limiting their options in court,” Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Oakland chapter leader Dan McNevin told the Chronicle. “When bankruptcies are declared, it’s about freezing discovery and really focusing on money.”
“It’s about secrets and keeping money away from survivors who have been harmed and really deserve reparations and deserve justice,” McNevin added. “It’s disappointing.”
The wave of new abuse lawsuits comes after a 2019 California law called AB-218 allowed new, expanded timeframes for assault allegations whose statute of limitations had previously passed. That law only applied specifically to “childhood sexual abuse,” so that’s a tell that all of the the 330 lawsuits are from victims who were children at the time of the alleged abuse.
Bishop Barber had been a lead plaintiff in a 2022 Supreme Court challenge to that lawsuit, but the court declined to hear the case. And similarly here, the bankruptcy will be considered by the courts, so there is no guarantee the diocese will get its bankruptcy protections.
Image: Skier Dude via Wikimedia Commons