The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento is facing insolvency following more than 200 lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of minors.
Bishop Jaime Soto said in a letter Sunday night addressing the civil claims and acknowledging the possible financial impact. The majority of the lawsuits predate the 1990s as state law extends the statute of limitations on these cases.
“A vital aspect of owning and atoning for the sins of the past is resolving claims brought forward by victim-survivors in a fair and responsible manner,” Soto wrote. “I have committed to this principle and attempt to live it in every case.”
The bishop admitted that in the face of a “staggering number” of claims, the “financial challenge is unlike anything we have faced before.
“I must consider what options are available to us, should the diocese become insolvent,” Soto said.
The civil claims are being managed by an Alameda County judge. Soto said the diocese has begun early discussions with the court for a “workable claims resolution process.” The claims were made possible under Assembly Bill 218, the 2019 California law that gave victims a look-back window to file claims through the end of 2022.
“I am committed to resolving all claims as fairly as possible. Given the number of claims that have been presented, however, resolving them may overwhelm the diocese’s finances available to satisfy such claims.” Soto said.
Soto did not name bankruptcy as an option, but said he “must consider what options are available to us, should the diocese become insolvent.”
The list of dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy protection is long and growing. Santa Rosa’s diocese filed for Chapter 11 in December as its bishop, Robert Vasa, calling the move “the inevitable result of an insurmountable number of claims.”
That came after dioceses in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, New York, settled their Chapter 11 cases late last year. Both dioceses set aside millions for abuse survivors.
The dioceses in Stockton and San Diego have also previously sought federal protection in the face of claims.
In all, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid out more than $2 billion in legal expenses, according to the Bay Area News Group.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests responded to Soto in a statement Tuesday morning. The organization criticized the diocese and said for many years it “ignored cases of clergy sexually abusing and raping children.”
SNAP also asked that the judge demand three items before allowing the diocese to file for bankruptcy: audited financial statements with a 20-year history, a balance sheet that has been audited and includes the current values of the company’s stocks, bonds, annuities and ownership interests and secret files on abusers.
“Sacramento has tremendous cash flows in the form of weekly and monthly donations, all of it tax-free. It owns hundreds, if not thousands, of parcels of property,” SNAP wrote. “Whether or not it segregated those assets into separate holdings, as sophisticated corporations do, should not fool a bankruptcy judge. It all is controlled by the bishop. He alone decides what gets sold and what does not. Not one single transaction in a diocese can go forward without his stamp of approval.”
The list of accused priests and deacons who worked in Sacramento can be viewed at scd.org/clergyabuse/list.
The diocese encourages anyone who may be a victim of clergy sexual abuse, or who knows someone, to report it to law enforcement. The Diocese’s Pastoral Care Coordinator may be reached through a toll-free number at 866-777-9133.
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