California friars file for bankruptcy in wake of sex abuse lawsuits

A cenotaph paying tribute to Father Junipero Serra is seen at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, California May 5, 2015. Pope Francis intends to declare Serra a saint at a Mass celebrated at the National Shrine in Washington on Sept 23 during his U.S. visit. The Franciscan friar built a series of missions along the Pacific coast in the latter 18th century, in what is now California, to spread the faith among Native Americans.


The Franciscan Friars of California, a Roman Catholic organization devoted to serving the poor, has filed for bankruptcy after facing nearly 100 lawsuits related to decades-old sex abuse claims.

The Oakland, California-based organization said in a Tuesday statement that it was driven to bankruptcy by a change in California state law that allowed sex abuse survivors to file decades-old complaints that were otherwise time-barred under the state’s statute of limitations.

The Franciscan Friars of California joins a growing wave of Roman Catholic organizations that have filed for bankruptcy to address sex abuse lawsuits.

Most of the 94 lawsuits filed against the Franciscan Friars were filed in California, where a 2019 law revived older sex abuse claims and led to the bankruptcies of the Catholic dioceses of San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Rosa.

All of the recent lawsuits against the Franciscan Friars of California are based on abuse that allegedly occurred at least 27 years ago, the group said in a Tuesday statement. Most of the friars accused of abuse are deceased, and the organization has long since cut ties with the six who are still alive, the group said.

Provincial minister Father David Gaa said that bankruptcy would allow the organization to equitably compensate survivors of abuse, even if “no apology or any amount of financial compensation can reverse the harm.”

“I am deeply saddened by the sinful acts committed and the damage caused to abuse survivors — then only children — who put their trust in friars,” Gaa said in a statement.

The Franciscan order is known for operating the St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, providing food, clothing and addiction counseling to those in need. The work of the St. Anthony Foundation, and the organization’s other operations in California and Arizona, will not be impacted by the bankruptcy filing, a spokesman said.

The Franciscan organization has between $1 million and $10 million in assets, and between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities, according to a petition filed Dec. 31 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oakland, California.

The case is: In re: Franciscan Friars of California Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, No. 23-41723

For the debtor: Robert Harris of Binder & Malter

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