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San Francisco archbishop says Catholic archdiocese may declare bankruptcy over child abuse lawsuits

SAN FRANCISCO — The Catholic archbishop of San Francisco says the Archdiocese may seek bankruptcy protection because of claims of child sexual abuse filed against it.

Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone, in a letter to parishioners posted Friday on the archdiocese's website, said 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 to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity," Cordileone said.

The archdiocese sold excess property and drew on 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 allowing about 500 additional sexual abuse claims to be filed, he said.

The bankruptcy move is coming now because "the judge assigned to us has set an imminent trial date for one of the initial cases," Cordileone said.

The archbishop cited the difficulty of trying to defend against the lawsuits.

"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," he said. "In addition to deceased individuals who can no longer defend themselves, a significant number of these claims include unnamed individuals or named individuals who are unknown to the Archdiocese."

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

"The operations of our parishes and schools should continue as usual without disruption, as should the activities of the archdiocese," the archbishop said.

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

An organization known as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the bankruptcy proposal.

"It is all about protecting secrets first, and second, to reduce just compensation to the victims they have created," the organization said in a statement Friday.

"We seriously doubt that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does not have the assets 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 a handful of dioceses that has not published a list of abusers, and also that when such lists are published, there are always new perpetrators revealed from information in the 'secret files.'"


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