Franciscan Friars of California announce bankruptcy filing over dozens of sex abuse claims

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

January 3, 2024

By Daniel Payne

The Franciscan Friars of California announced this week that they have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over dozens of sexual abuse allegations filed against the religious order.

The Franciscans of the Province of St. Barbara, founded in 1915 in Oakland, California, said on their website on Tuesday that they had filed a Chapter 11 petition “to address 94 child sexual abuse claims” leveled against the friars. 

Friars from the Province of St. Barbara, one of seven such OFM Franciscan entities in the United States, serve in California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washingtonand in a number of Native American nations in the Southwest as well on mission to Mexico, Russia, and the Holy Land.

The order said the dozens of claims came about due to California “state laws that allowed abuse survivors to file decades-old complaints that were otherwise time-barred or expired under the state’s statute of limitations.”

The state of California passed legislation allowing a three-year exemption to the statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits. The window began Jan. 1, 2020, and ended Jan. 2, 2023.

A similar legal window was opened in 2003, but it did not allow for retrospective lawsuits against hospitals and schools where abuse was alleged.

All of the claims in question, the friars said, “occurred at least 27 years ago,” with some dating back to the 1940s. “Almost all of” them were filed in California, and “most of the friars named in the claims” are deceased. 

“Of the six living friars, all have been long-removed permanently from all public ministry and ministerial environments and are living under strict third-party supervision,” the announcement said. 

The filing is meant to ensure “just financial compensation” for abuse victims, Father David Gaa, OFM, said in the release. 

“The care of abuse survivors is our foremost concern and has always been at the core of our response,” Gaa said. “As a result of the state’s most recent temporary suspension of the statute of limitations, we were overwhelmed by the number of cases filed, both in terms of the human cost and in our ability to fairly compensate all abuse survivors.”

Gaa said the order consulted with its “legal and financial counsel” and determined that “litigation costs and potential liability would exceed our limited financial capacity.”

The Chapter 11 filing “is the only viable path to ensuring just, equitable, and compassionate compensation for all abuse survivors,” he said.

“A process supervised by the bankruptcy court can resolve a multitude of claims efficiently, in a timely manner, and with equity,” the priest added.

The friars join numerous dioceses around the country, including several in California such as Santa Rosa and Oakland, in filing for Chapter 11 amid voluminous abuse allegations. 

In August of last year, the Archdiocese of San Francisco filed for bankruptcy due to what Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said were “more than 500 civil lawsuits” against the local Church.

The bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, California, meanwhile, announced last month that “after careful consideration and consultation” the diocese would be filing for bankruptcy amid a slate of over 250 clergy abuse lawsuits.

Gaa this week said he was “deeply saddened by the sinful acts committed and the damage caused to abuse survivors — then only children — who put their trust in friars.”