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SF Archdiocese Files for Bankruptcy Amid Child Sexual Abuse Scandals

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Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone wears his robes in front of the altar, facing the faithful. At the altar there are many candles. Deacons stand behind Cordileone in prayer.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone speaks during Easter Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco on April 4, 2021. In a statement published on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, Cordileone said that the Archdiocese 'has neither the financial means nor the practical ability' to litigate the hundreds of pending child abuse cases. (Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

San Francisco’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy Monday, saying the filing is necessary to manage more than 500 lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by church officials.

The Chapter 11 protection filing will stop all legal actions against the Archdiocese and thus allow it to develop a settlement plan with abuse survivors, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement.

“The unfortunate reality is that the Archdiocese has neither the financial means nor the practical ability to litigate all of these abuse claims individually, and therefore, after much consideration, concluded that the bankruptcy process was the best solution for providing fair and equitable compensation to the innocent survivors who have been harmed,” Cordileone said.

Individual parishes will continue to offer Mass and other religious services to the faithful, Cordileone added. “Our parishes, schools, and other entities are not included in the filing,” he wrote. “Catholic Charities, Catholic cemeteries, and St. Patrick’s Seminary & University will continue their operations as usual.”

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San Francisco is the third Bay Area diocese to file for bankruptcy after facing hundreds of lawsuits brought under a California law approved in 2019 that allowed decades-old claims to be filed by Dec. 31, 2022. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland filed for bankruptcy in May. And the Diocese of Santa Rosa became the first one in California to file for Chapter 11 protection, in March.

The overwhelming majority of the more than 500 claims stem from allegations of sexual abuse that occurred 30 or more years ago involving priests who are no longer active in ministry or are deceased, said Cordileone.

Survivors of clergy sex abuse criticized the bankruptcy filing, calling it a ploy to keep information hidden.

“Cordileone will use every tactic and tool at his disposal to continue to run from the truth. He refuses to identify offenders in his diocese, he attempts legal maneuvers to eliminate the California Child Victims Act, and now he is attempting a last-ditch effort to hide the truth behind bankruptcy,” Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing over 125 plaintiffs who allege they were sexually abused by clergy in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said in a statement.

A large cathedral with a brutalist and modernist design of exposed concrete.
People walk outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption ahead of Easter Mass in San Francisco on Sunday, April 4, 2021. (Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is the only diocese in California yet to release a list of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse, Anderson said.

Cordileone said in his statement that a list of priests and deacons who are in good standing can be found on the Archdiocese website. He said those under investigation for alleged child sexual abuse are prohibited from exercising public ministry and are removed from the list.

Cordileone has established himself as one of the most prominent and outspoken of the hard-line conservatives within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He attracted national attention in May 2022 when he said that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco resident and practicing Catholic, would be barred from receiving Communion in his archdiocese because of her support for abortion rights.

The San Francisco Archdiocese serves about 440,000 Catholics in the counties of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo.

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