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Catholic Diocese of Sacramento faces more than 270 sexual abuse lawsuits


The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento could go bankrupt as it faces hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors, a letter from Bishop Jaime Soto reads.

"I am committed to resolving all claims as fairly as possible," Soto said in the letter. "Given the number of claims that have been presented, however, resolving them may overwhelm the diocese's finances available to satisfy such claims. This financial challenge is unlike anything we have faced before. I must consider what options are available to us, should the diocese become insolvent."

The letter sent to the community on Sunday explains that the more than 200 lawsuits were filed because of a California law that removes the time limit for filing child sex abuse claims. Before Assembly Bill 218 passed in 2018, people had three years from the time of the reported abuse before it would be barred from consideration in a court.

A spokesperson for the diocese said 234 claimants filed suits, mostly against clergy. There were also an additional 42 claims related to Boy Scout troops chartered by parishes in the diocese, bringing the total to 276 claims total.

Soto said the Diocese of Sacramento's situation was featured in the March/April issue of the Catholic Herald magazine.

The Diocese of Sacramento is one of the multiple other dioceses in Northern California facing civil claims that are being overseen in a special proceeding by a judge in Alameda County.

When were these 200+ cases against the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento filed?

While it was not clarified in the letter when these claims were filed, Soto wrote that about half of them are claims on reported abuse from the 1970s or earlier; 80% of them are from the 1980s or earlier "and five claims allege abuse that occurred after the diocese's reforms and improved safeguards in 2002."

If AB 218 were not in effect, these cases would not have been considered in court.

How likely is it that the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento will go bankrupt?

It appears too soon to say, as Soto said he does not have an exact number of claims against the Diocese, and they have not discussed any proposals with the plaintiff's legal counsel.

Soto in the letter explains that the Diocese typically pays for claims using funds designated for the purpose of sexual abuse claims. But he also said "very little" insurance coverage remains to cover claims from past decades.

"Depending on the total expense required to resolve these claims, it is possible the diocese could be rendered insolvent," according to the letter.

Soto also expects the diocese will need to sell some of its assets to help pay claimants. Asking the Vatican, which is independent of the diocese, is not an option to help pay.

A decision on whether Soto would file for bankruptcy is likely this summer.

How will this affect parishes and schools under the diocese?

"It is my expectation that the parish and school corporations would be largely unaffected by the diocese filing a bankruptcy petition," Soto wrote.

Christian Brothers and Cristo Rey in Sacramento, and Jesuit High School in Carmichael would not be included in the filing as they are owned and operated by their own respective corporation and are non-diocesan high schools.

St. Francis High School in Sacramento and Saint Patrick Saint Vincent High School in Vallejo, while they are diocesan Catholic high schools, are part of a parish, which operates independently from the diocese.


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