Deadline Nears for Claims against Bankrupt Stockton Catholic Diocese
By Matthias Gafni
July 18, 2014
Anyone abused by a priest or other Stockton Catholic diocese employee and who wants to sue has less than a month to file a claim as part of a bankruptcy deadline established for the religious organization that claims abuse settlements and judgments have emptied church coffers.
A priest abuse survivor's group held a news conference Wednesday outside the Stockton diocese headquarters to draw attention to the Aug. 15 deadline and push the diocese to increase public outreach of the upcoming date.
The Stockton diocese, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, is the 10th Catholic diocese across the country to file for such protections. The Stockton diocese has already paid out $14 million over the past two decades to settle abuse cases, and the diocese in May established a phone hotline for additional abuse victims to call for information on claims.
Attorney James Stang, whose law firm has been hired to man the hotline, said he's received about 10 calls, meaning the organization could be hit with additional claims.
Victim advocates are disappointed the diocese's bankruptcy filing will likely limit monetary payments and perhaps leave some victims out if they miss the pending deadline.
"After that deadline, it may be impossible for compensation for damages regarding child sexual abuse," said Melanie Sakoda, the East Bay director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "(The diocese) contributed to the problem. There wouldn't have been so many victims if they acted responsibly in the first place."
Stockton diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire, in a letter to parishioners announcing the bankruptcy filing in January, wrote: "Very simply, we are in this situation because of those priests in our diocese who perpetrated grave, evil acts of child sexual abuse. We can never forget that these evil acts, not the victims of the abuse, are responsible for the financial difficulties we now face."
In the bankruptcy filing, the diocese claimed to owe more than $2 million in debts, including a $500,000 victim settlement. It points to four pending abuse lawsuits involving three John Does and a Jane Doe as the impetus for filing bankruptcy.
"We believe that filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is the only way the Diocese of Stockton can continue the ministries and support it offers to Catholic parishes and communities, and fulfill the responsibilities it has to victims of sexual abuse, particularly those who have not yet had their day in court," Blaire wrote in January.
Included in the bankruptcy court documents was a list of 11 confirmed clergy abusers who served across the diocese, including at St. Bernard's Parish in Tracy.
"To some victims, particularly the young ones, it was just Father Michael or Father Pat, but they don't know the priest's full name," Stang said of the reason the priest's full names and assignments were provided.
The abuse does not have to be limited to the 11 listed priests. At Wednesday's news conference, the survivor's group handed out a list of six other priests convicted, arrested or accused of abuse who spent time within the Stockton diocese.
The advocacy group had concerns because the phone hotline was not operational from June 25 to July 7 as Stang's office changed phone systems. However, Stang said Wednesday the phone line tracks caller phone numbers, and no one called the Stockton diocese hotline during those two weeks.
The attorney said he personally returns calls and provides information to the callers on how to file a claim, and claimants then join a committee consisting of abuse victims. After the deadline passes, a pot of money will be negotiated, and based on the total number of claims, a protocol will be devised on how the money will be disbursed, Stang said.
The Stockton diocese has said it published newspaper advertisements, shared the claim information in church newsletters and conducted other outreach to alert parishioners of the upcoming deadline.
In addition to Stockton, these Catholic diocese have declared bankruptcy because of sexual abuse liabilities, according to The Wall Street Journal: Milwaukee; San Diego; Spokane, Washington; Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; Tucson, Arizona; Fairbanks, Alaska; Wilmington, Delaware; and Gallup, New Mexico; as well as the Christian Brothers Institute, which operates Catholic schools and orphanages.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
how to file abuse claim against Stockton diocese
All civil claims of abuse by a priest within the Stockton Catholic diocese must be filed in bankruptcy court by Aug. 15 at 4 p.m. Here's how to start the process:
Call hotline: 888-570-6217
Call Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests local contact Tim Lennon at 415-312-5820, tlennon@SNAPnetwork.org, or Melanie Sakoda at 925-708-6175, email@example.com.
Stockton diocese priests identified as abusers
In bankruptcy court documents, 11 priests who spent time within the diocese were identified as abusers:
Father Antonio Camacho
Brother Didachus Clavell
Father Murty Fahy
Father Michael Kelly
Father Titian Miani
Father Antonio Munoz Rodriguez
Monsignor Edward Noonan
Father Oliver O'Grady
Father Oskar Pelaez
Father Leo Suarez
Father Fernando Villalobos
Abuse claims are not limited to these 11 priests.