Sexual Abuse Survivor Group Says Oakland Diocese Filing for Bankruptcy Should Sell Real Estate to Pay Victims

National Review [New York NY]

September 5, 2023

By Ari Blaff

Two weeks after the San Francisco Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy amid hundreds of outstanding lawsuits from victims of sexual abuse, an organization representing survivors is demanding the Diocese of Oakland withdraw its Chapter 11 protections and pay victims with the proceeds.

“According to our research, the Diocese of Oakland owns a real estate portfolio valued at about $3.3 billion,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) wrote in an official statement shared with National Review on Tuesday. “Of those properties, it appears to us that about $600 million are held in ‘non-core’ real estate. That is, those particular properties do not seem to be central to the Diocese’s mission.”

“Based on our assessment, we believe that the Diocese has the resources needed to care for survivors without resorting to bankruptcy,” the group argued.

In May, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland filed for bankruptcy, making it the second in the state — after the Diocese of Santa Rosa — to take such a course of action in the wake of credible sex-abuse accusations.

Alongside the letter, SNAP attached a financial assessment the group had conducted of the Diocese of Oakland’s “real estate footprint,” which included a projection of a $3.4 billion real-estate portfolio. According to SNAP, the easiest properties the body could sell include a parking garage part of Christ the Light Cathedral that “would cost $25 million to build today” as well as surplus acreage associated with the St. James Parish in Fremont, California.

“Santa Maria parish in Orinda, according to its 2022 parish report, generates on the order of $400,000 in annual income from renting its unneeded buildings to tenants that are not Catholic entities. The land and buildings could simply be sold off,” the letter, written by SNAP executive staff, elaborated.

The sexual-assault survivors group sought to justify liquidating the Diocese’s real-estate portfolio as a win-win situation whereby “fewer properties would mean a reduced need for monies for insurance, maintenance, utilities, and taxes, as well as fewer property management professionals.”

In late August, the Archdiocese of San Francisco filed for Chapter 11 as over 500 outstanding lawsuits reportedly pushed the institution to the brink of financial collapse.

“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.”

SNAP questioned the veracity of Cordileone’s claims, insisting that the legal maneuvering was necessary for self-preservation. “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 ended on December 31, 2022.