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San Francisco archbishop says Catholic archdiocese may go bankrupt over child abuse lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO — The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco says the archdiocese could file for bankruptcy protection over child sexual abuse claims filed against it.

Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone said in a letter to parishioners posted Friday on the archdiocese’s website that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization “is very likely.”

“Chapter 11 would allow the archdiocese to reorganize its financial affairs to continue its vital ministries for the faithful and for the communities that depend on our services and charity,” said Cordileone.

The archdiocese sold excess property and raised insurance to pay about $68 million to about 100 plaintiffs to settle claims filed under a 2002 state law, the archbishop said.

In 2019, the state lifted a statute of limitations that allowed about 500 additional sexual assault claims to be filed, he said.

The bankruptcy is coming now because “the judge assigned to us has set an upcoming trial date for one of the first cases,” Cordileone said.

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The archbishop mentioned the difficulty of defending himself against the lawsuits.

“The vast majority of alleged abuses occurred in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and involved priests who are deceased or no longer in office,” he said. “In addition to deceased persons who can no longer defend themselves, a significant number of these claims include unnamed persons or named persons unknown to the Archdiocese.”

A bankruptcy filing would only involve the legal entity known as “The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, a Corporation Sole,” he said.

“The activities of our parishes and schools must continue undisturbed, as must the activities of the archdiocese,” said the archbishop.

“I am deeply saddened by the sinful acts and damage done to the lives of innocent children who put their trust in priests, staff and volunteers of the Church,” said Cordileone. “I pray every day for the survivors that they will one day find peace.”

An organization known as the Survivors Network of those abused by priests criticized the bankruptcy proposal.

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“It is first about protecting secrets, and second about reducing just compensation for the victims they have incurred,” the organization said in a statement Friday.

“We seriously doubt that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does not have the resources to settle these lawsuits,” said the statement, distributed by Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director. “But we do know that San Francisco is one of the few dioceses that has not published a list of abusers, and also that when such lists are published, new perpetrators are always revealed from information in the ‘secret files’.”

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