San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese Files for Bankruptcy amid Hundreds of Outstanding Sexual-Assault Lawsuits

National Review [New York NY]

August 22, 2023

By Ari Blaff

The San Francisco Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy on Monday as the body grapples with more than 500 outstanding lawsuits arising from sex-abuse allegations.

“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,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement following the announcement.

“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more than 500 claims stem from allegations of sexual abuse that occurred 30 or more years ago involving priests who are no longer active in ministry or are deceased.”

The organization is made up of over 88 parishes and oversees Catholic services to nearly 500,000 co-religionists across San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The announcement was condemned by Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing over one hundred claimants suing the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“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,” the lawyer said in a statement.

SNAP, a network of clergy sexual-abuse victims, similarly questioned the veracity of Cordileone’s claims that the archdiocese was financially pressed. “We seriously doubt that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does not have the assets to settle these lawsuits,” SNAP said in a statement. “We can only hope that the federal judge closely examines the Archdiocese’s real estate holdings, which are spread across three of the richest counties in the United States.”

In 2019, California’s state legislature passed a law enabling youth victims of sexual assault a three-year “look-back” window. The bill permitted survivors to temporarily file civil lawsuits beyond the normal statute of limitations capped at December 31, 2022.

A similar “look-back” window enacted in 2003 led the archdiocese to spend more than $70 million in legal settlements prompting the sale of some of its property holdings and drawing down on its insurance fund.

The San Francisco Archdiocese’s Chapter 11 filing comes on the heels of similar moves by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland in May and the Diocese of Santa Rosa in March.

ARI BLAFF is a news writer for National Review. His writing has appeared in Tablet MagazineQuilletteCity Journal, and Newsweek. He holds a Master’s from the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and writes from Toronto, Canada. @ariblaff