Pile-up of sexual abuse lawsuits prompt Diocese of Monterey to contemplate bankruptcy

Monterey County Now [Seaside CA]

April 25, 2024

By Pam Marino

Although a letter from Bishop Daniel Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey dated April 18 states that he’s writing “on an important topic: the sexual abuse of minors,” it’s notably about how the diocese is contemplating filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a move that church critics say would delay sexual abuse cases filed against the diocese and would likely limit what those who were abused could collect in financial compensation should they prevail in court.

The diocese was named as defendants in approximately 100 lawsuits filed between January 2020 and December 2022, Garcia reported, alleging child sexual abuse occurring between the 1950s and 2002. The lawsuits were filed during a three-year window created by California Assembly Bill 218, the Child Victims Act, which allowed people claiming to have been sexually assaulted as minors to file civil lawsuits even though the statute of limitations had previously expired.

A large volume of cases has prompted at least four California dioceses to file for bankruptcy with others considering it.

Garcia stated that within the Diocese of Monterey, “We have been discussing how best to resolve these cases and how to be fair to all the victims,” adding that by filing bankruptcy, “It would allow all victims to be compensated from the limited funds the Diocese has and will be allocated in an equitable manner.”

Critics disagree.

“Basically bankruptcy is a good deal for the diocese,” says Melanie Sakoda of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Once a bankruptcy is in motion, the judge will set a time limit for more alleged victims to come forward and once that limit is up, those who waited to come forward with their abuse will be shut out.

“Most survivors are ready to come forward between the ages of their 50s and 70s, so children abused in the 1990s and 2000s, they’re going to be out of luck, and I think that’s a travesty,” Sakoda says.

Deacon David Ford, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Monterey, claims otherwise. “We’re definitively not trying to cheat victims and protect us, as much as how do we handle this large number of cases equitably,” he says.

Monterey’s cases were funneled into a consolidated case in Alameda County Superior Court representing cases from multiple counties in Northern California. Rick Simons, the attorney serving as the plaintiffs’ liaison for those cases, says filing bankruptcy “has everything to do with getting the price down,” both for the diocese and for the insurance companies that represent them.

“The bankruptcy system is not really concerned with the rights of people like our clients,” Simons says. “It’s all just a way to avoid responsibility for all the things that happened to the kids.”

Garcia stated no final decision has been made but said it’s highly likely. He said the issue of sexual abuse of minors “deeply saddens and disturbs all of us,” and added the diocese has required annual training for all clergy and volunteers participating in ministry since 2002.