The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco on Monday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, saying it is necessary to resolve the more than 500 lawsuits of child sexual abuse dating back decades, prompting victim advocates to call the decision an attempt to deny justice and transparency for survivors.
The petitionwas filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said Monday, arguing that it was the “best solution for providing fair and equitable compensation to the innocent survivors who have been harmed,” he said on the archdiocese website.
“The unfortunate reality is that the archdiocese has neither the financial means nor the practical ability to litigate all of these abuse claims individually,” he said.
“It is the best way to bring much-needed resolution to survivors while allowing the Archdiocese to continue its sacred mission to the faithful and those in need. We must seek purification and redemption to heal, especially survivors who have carried the burdens of these sins against them for decades,” the statement added.
Cordileone said the majority of the alleged abuses occurred from the 1960s into the ’80s and involved priests who are deceased or no longer in the ministry.
The announcement prompted criticism fromadvocates who argued it could “stonewall survivors of clergy sexual abuse from receiving proper justice under the lawsuits filed under the California Child Victims Act,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represents more than 125 people suing the archdiocese.
In a statement posted on hisfirm’s website, Anderson called the archbishop’s decision “dangerous” and said it demonstrates his preference for “secrecy and self-protection.”
The archdiocese did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment on Anderson’s accusation Monday afternoon. When asked about the bankruptcy filing, it deferred to the statement on its website.
Dan McNevin, a representative of the nonprofit Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, had also previously warned against harmful consequences of such move.
“San Francisco’s bankruptcy will stiff-arm survivors who have the courage to tell their stories,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle this month, when the newspaper reported on the archdiocese’s intent to seek the protections. “If it is allowed to stand, bankruptcy halts trials, testimony, legal discovery, and the release of the files of priests and other perpetrators that, if released could be used to assess who in the organization helped to cover up crimes.”
“It’s a double bottom line benefit; they keep their secrets and they keep more of their wealth,” McNevin told the Chronicle.
Anderson and other advocates have also questioned the archdiocese’s refusal to publish information about members of clergy accused of child sexual abuse.
A barrage of lawsuits came after California passed a 2019 law allowing people to bring claims for childhood sexual abuse that otherwise would have been barred due the statute of limitations. The law opened a three-year window allowing cases to be filed against nonprofit organizations through Dec. 31, 2022, leading to more than 500 civil lawsuits against the San Francisco Archdiocese, according to a Los Angeles Times article from late last year, and more than 3,000 lawsuits against the Catholic Church in the state, The Post reported last month.
In 2003, California became the first U.S. state to temporarily lift statutes of limitations for childhood sex abuse in the wake of the Catholic Church scandal.
>If approved, the Chapter 11 process would freeze legal actions against the archdiocese while it restructures its finances.
The archbishop said bankruptcy would cover only the corporate legal entity, the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, and not its 88 parishes and schools, which are independently managed and will continue to operate as usual. The archdiocese serves more than 442,000 parishioners in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin.
The San Francisco Archdiocese’s move follows that of the Santa Rosa Diocese, which filed for bankruptcy in March amid sex-abuse lawsuits from 200 people. The Oakland Diocese announced in May that it had filed for bankruptcy amid more than 330 lawsuits.
According to the Catholic News Agency, more than two dozen dioceses in the United States have entered bankruptcy proceedings, most of them in the past decade.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order that operated 48 of Canada’s residential schools, has hired an independent third party to oversee efforts to ensure members who have committed sex crimes do not reoffend.
Some sexual assault survivors have praised the hiring as a positive development — but have also criticized the Oblate’s decision to withhold the monitor’s name.
Tony Charlie, who was sexually assaulted by an Oblate brother during his time at Kuper Island Residential School starting in the mid-1960s, said the hiring of an independent monitor is “a good step.”
He also said it’s impossible to confirm that the monitor is truly independent if the Oblates are unwilling to release the hire’s name.
“We have no clue who this person is,” he said. “It’s very important that these abusers be accountable and visible and probably monitored closely.”
The Oblates hired the monitor in December 2022 and expect he will begin monthly meetings later this month.
The monitor will meet with Oblates who are convicted sex offenders — men who abused children in residential schools, northern Indigenous communities and various parishes across the country.
A CBC investigation in June 2022 confirmed that at least nine such offenders had taken refuge at the Springhurst retirement residence in Ottawa after being released from prison.
“Our concern is to ensure good oversight, appropriate external oversight,” said Ken Thorson, provincial leader of the Oblates.
“[We] want to find the person who we felt was going to provide us with the accountability that we need to ensure that we’re doing what we’re meant to do.”
The monitor will be reporting to a misconduct advisory team that may advise changes to an offending Oblate’s safety plan, if deemed necessary.
Monitor ‘has no connections’ to Oblates: Thorson
When asked why the Oblates aren’t identifying the monitor, Thorson instead described the monitor’s work history, which includes investigating workplace harassment and abuse in organizations ranging from large corporations to social services agencies and Indigenous communities.
Thorson said the monitor “has no connections” to the Oblates, but he refused to identify the person.
“For the sake of the work, for the sake of the people that he’s working with, we’ve chosen at this time not to release the name,” Thorson said.
He added that the Oblates “might be willing” to consider sharing the name of the third party monitor with some survivors to assure them the hire is indeed independent.
Other survivors who spoke to CBC also said they’d like the name to be released.
Leona Huggins, a founding member of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada, was sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest in the 1970s.
Huggins said she is aware of other instances where the Catholic Church has assured people it is making an “arm’s length” hire, but the person has turned out to have close connections to the church.
“Without knowing the name of the person, it’s hard to trust that they can be fully independent,” she said.
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said survivors of clergy abuse are often promised action, only to be disappointed by a lack of follow-through.
“Survivors who were abused by someone in the Oblates would probably be looking at this with a little bit of hope and a lot of skepticism,” he said.
Thorson said he is “always willing” to be in touch with survivors and has listened to their stories in the past.
“People have suffered — children and vulnerable people have suffered at the hands of Oblates,” he said. “Making amends for the sins of our community is the most important work that I do.”
But for Charlie, those efforts have fallen short.
“Not one of them has stepped forward to help us heal. None of them have checked up on us,” Charlie said. “I really don’t have faith in them right now.”
As bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Most Rev. William E. Lori fought for nearly eight years — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — to prevent the wide release of information about the history of child sexual abuse in that branch of the Catholic Church.
The soft-spoken prelate argued in the case two decades ago that what was already publicly known about sexual misconduct by clergy in the diocese was all the information the public needed to grasp the scope of the crisis and understand who was responsible.
Now archbishop of Baltimore, the 71-year-old Lori is facing a tidal wave of criticism — and even calls for his resignation — as the Maryland Attorney General’s Office seeks to release the results of its four-year investigation into the abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Baltimore and nine counties in the state.
Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh announced last month that his team had finished its sprawling probe, and his staff quickly filed a motion in Baltimore Circuit Court to make the 456-page document public. After five days, the archdiocese announced it would support its release, but The Baltimore Sun confirmed a week later that the archdiocese is paying legal fees for an anonymous group of current and former employees who seek to influence what is disclosed.
The Connecticut and Maryland cases are in many ways different. In Bridgeport, Lori filed a motion on behalf of his diocese to prevent the release of thousands of documents related to abuse cases. In Baltimore, the archdiocese is supporting those who seek to affect the release — instead of taking such a step itself. Meanwhile, the identities of those seeking to control the outcome are under seal.
In an interview with The Sun, Lori defended his actions in both dioceses. He’s also used messages to parishioners, including a video on the archdiocese website, to expound on his reasoning in the Maryland case.
“The archdiocese does not and will not oppose the report’s release,” Lori says in the video. “But we [have] also pledged to support the rights of some people who are mentioned in the report, but not accused of abuse, and who were not given the ability to respond to the attorney general during the investigation.”
To some who have followed both cases, Lori’s approaches to the two situations are strikingly similar, and not in a positive way.
“I can’t pretend to read his mind, but in Connecticut, he seemed to be in favor of transparency even as he worked against it,” said Terry McKiernan, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit that tracks clergy abuse cases. “He tries to have his cake and eat it, too.”
Gail Howard, a co-director of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, rejected the archbishop’s reasoning.
“Lori’s explanation — hiding the truth in case it might get misused — doesn’t cut it,” Howard said. “In what universe does sealing information promote transparency? People in Bridgeport legitimately wanted to know what happened in their diocese, and he wants to keep things secret because some little group might get hurt? He’s doing the same thing down there he did up here.”
By the time Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Bridgeport in 2001, Lori was making a name for himself among church leaders as a man to help reform policies, procedures and attitudes around abuse.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Lori had helped Cardinal James Hickey in Washington craft one of the first child-protection policies in the U.S. Catholic Church.
Fellow bishops tapped him to help write the 2002 Dallas Charter, guidelines for addressing abuse by priests in the U.S., and sell it to the pope. However, Lori and the other authors were criticized for omitting bishops (on the grounds they were subject only to papal authority) from the charter’s first version. Subsequent documents have established how bishops can address other bishops’ misconduct.
When Lori arrived in Connecticut, the diocese was reeling from widespread reports of abuse and a long-percolating lawsuit filed by 24 victims. Lori’s charge included changing the culture created by his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, who displayed a “dismissive, uncaring, and at times threatening attitude toward survivors,” according to an independent report in 2019.
Lori removed abusive priests, put an anti-abuse policy in writing and enforced it, met with survivors and set up a victim assistance program. The 2019 report credited him with starting “meaningful outreach efforts to survivors for the first time in the diocese’s history.”
Lori did draw fire for keeping a priest in ministry in Bridgeport despite the man’s inclusion in a legal settlement. A diocesan review board found allegations against the priest weren’t credible, Lori said, and disentangling his case from others would have been too expensive.
Then there was the legal battle. Just days before he was installed in Bridgeport, diocesan officials announced a $15 million settlement of the lawsuit. Lori said the deal specified that more than 12,000 documents related to the abuse be sealed from public view and ultimately destroyed. But four newspapers, including the Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe, filed a motion to have them released. Lori fought back.
Among the principles his lawyers cited was that the government has no inherent right to the internal documents of a church, which they argued is a private entity.
Others should sound familiar to those following the ongoing debate about the attorney general report in Maryland.
Lori maintained that news coverage had made the names of every abusive priest publicly known and that the plaintiffs were free to tell their stories. He held that unsealing the documents would unveil private information, such as medical records and the names of previously unidentified survivors, and endanger church employees mentioned in the documents who were not accused of wrongdoing.
“There were a number of priests who had unsubstantiated allegations [against them], who had been very carefully investigated, and [the allegations were] found not to be credible,” Lori told The Sun. “To be mentioned publicly would have unfairly destroyed their lives and careers.”
The fight made it to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which in both 2005 and 2009 affirmed an order by a lower court to give the newspapers access to the documents. Lori charged that the judge in the case had a conflict of interest and alleged the press had “intervened” in a settled case. His appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court came up short: the high court declined to extend a stay on the sealed materials.
Lori expressed his displeasure in the form of a blog post after one of the rulings.
“Sadly, the history of this case has been about access by the secular media to internal Church documents of cases more than 30 years ago to suggest, unfairly, that nothing has changed,” he wrote. “This is despite the extraordinary measures the Catholic Church has undertaken over the past several years to treat victims with great compassion and dignity, and to put in safeguards and educational programs to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again.”
Survivor advocates were relieved at the outcome, but some remain frustrated with Lori for taking the case as far as he did. To John Marshall Lee, a former board member of the Bridgeport chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics founded in 2002 over concerns about abuse in the church, the battle Lori fought belied his assertions he was a reformer.
“Many people of faith ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’” Lee said. “Lori was a strong officer in the bigger church hierarchy of maintaining a defensive position on the issue of clergy abuse. But where are the studies about why these collared men were doing what they did? What about the people who are still struggling? I think Jesus would have been more with the victims.”
Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria, who is handling the case of the attorney general’s report, issued a gag order in the case Dec. 2. Lori cited it in his Dec. 8 interview with The Sun in no longer taking questions about the report or its potential release.
The attorney general’s motion to release the report said it identifies 158 priests who abused some 600 children over the past 80 years.
The archdiocese has argued those figures support claims it has been in the vanguard of U.S. dioceses in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse over the past two decades.
When the archdiocese instituted a new policy by disclosing the names of 57 credibly accused priests in 2002, it was only the second of the nation’s more than 180 to take the step (nearly 20 still don’t). Lori has expanded the disclosure program, adding names, brief accounts of the offenses in question, and the work histories of each accused man. The diocesan website currently lists 152 accused.
Frosh said in a November interview that he does not believe clergy abuse remains a crisis in the archdiocese.
Archdiocesan spokespersons who have read the report, which Frosh’s office shared with the church, say its named offenders include the 152 names on the church’s website. The list was among more than 100,000 documents the archdiocese turned over to investigators.
What the church’s critics don’t know has left them to wonder what the anonymous archdiocesan-backed group hopes to achieve or can accomplish by having their say with the judge. If they get a hearing, will the opponents press the court to withhold names or other information? Who, the watchdogs want to know, are the archdiocese employees who are mentioned but not accused of abuse?
McKiernan said that in other cases he has documented, such names were those of church employees working in roles that survivors believe allowed abuse to unfold, people who kept abusive priests in ministry.
“Until the report is released and we know the names, we have no way of knowing what part they might have played,” he said.
Lori declined to comment on calls for his resignation and said he does not regret pushing forward the legal case in Connecticut.
“I fought the good fight,” he told The Sun.
He also said he considers the archdiocese’s offering legal help to the anonymous group to be consistent with his support for building a culture of transparency.
Language on the archdiocese’s website describes its criteria for determining whether a priest has been “credibly accused” of abuse: “The Archdiocese of Baltimore is committed to openness and transparency. The Archdiocese will meet this commitment to the extent possible while also respecting the privacy and reputations of all individuals and applicable law.”
“I’d stand by that statement happily,” Lori told The Sun. “It does sum up our approach to all this. I think it’s the kind of approach that ought to be generally acceptable across the culture.”
A New Orleans attorney who represents victims of clerical sexual abuse faces a $400,000 fine after alerting a local Catholic high school that a priest who worked there once admitted to fondling and kissing a teen girl he met at another church institution.
The lawyer, Richard Trahant, said he would appeal against the hefty sanction handed to him on Tuesday, which stemmed from a federal judge’s ruling that his alert violated confidentiality rules governing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the local archdiocese.
A spokesman for the archdiocese – the second-oldest in the US, serving about 400,000 parishioners – declined comment other than to say: “The wisdom of the judge’s ruling speaks for itself.”
At the center of the dispute is a priest named Paul Hart, who officials found kissed, groped and at least once engaged in what the church described as “dry sex” – simulated intercourse while clothed – with a girl who was a senior in high school and participated in a youth group at a church where he was assigned in the early 1990s.
Hart was then in his late 30s. The girl was 17. By 2012, she had learned that after other assignments, Hart was returning to the church where they met and which ran a school her children then attended.
The woman filed a complaint with the archdiocese, accusing Hart of grooming her before pursuing sexual contact she now realized was inappropriate. In a church investigation, Hart denied initiating what happened but admitted contact, which he could not say did not cause him to ejaculate.
Worldwide, the Catholic church has since 2002 instructed leaders to consider anyone younger than 18 underage. However, though the investigation found Hart broke longstanding church laws mandating that priests practice celibacy, it did not find he sexually abused a minor. Under church law in effect at the time, the age of majority was 16.
Church officials have never publicly discussed Hart’s case. In 2017, he became chaplain of Brother Martin high school, in New Orleans. Details of the investigation into Hart were contained in files the archdiocese turned over after it filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2020, faced with dozens of unresolved lawsuits related to the worldwide church’s decades-old clerical abuse crisis.
Trahant, the lawyer, represents plaintiffs in some such lawsuits. As the bankruptcy case positioned the local archdiocese to reorganize its books, Trahant and some colleagues and clients were put on a committee representing the interests of clergy abuse claimants. In that role, Trahant learned about the 2012 complaint against Hart.
Though Brother Martin only admits boys, girls participate in activities including cheerleading and competitive dancing. In January this year, Trahant, a cousin of the principal, notified Brother Martin about the Hart investigation. Within days, Hart retired. He and the archdiocese – which has spent nearly $19m in legal and professional fees since filing for bankruptcy – said it was because of a battle with brain cancer.
Trahant also sent an email to this reporter, then working for the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, advising him to “keep” Hart on his “radar”, without saying why.
The Times-Picayune reported that Hart’s departure came as the misconduct investigation resurfaced. The judge overseeing the archdiocese’s bankruptcy petition, Meredith Grabill, ordered a leak investigation because Hart’s file was among documents the church had classified as confidential.
When answering questions during that leak investigation, this reporter declined to discuss any sources cited in the Times-Picayune article but did say Trahant did not provide any information in the piece. Nothing indicates that investigators concluded Trahant had provided any of the information in the Times-Picayune report or was one of the unnamed sources cited.
Judge Grabill nonetheless ruled in June that Trahant’s alert to Brother Martin and his email telling this reporter to keep the priest on his radar – which the judge said “planted the seed” leading to the article – violated the confidentiality rules of the bankruptcy case.
Grabill immediately removed from the clergy abuse claimants committee Trahant, two attorneys with whom he frequently collaborates and a number of clients. On Tuesday, she added the $400,000 fine against Trahant, saying the amount was derived from the cost of the leak investigation.
The judge also wrote that the leak investigation was only necessary because Trahant didn’t immediately come clean. But at one point Trahant said in court that he had written to the judge asking to meet with her in February, and he hoped to discuss the chain of events involving Hart; yet he had no success, according to a publicly available transcript.
Grabill on Tuesday wrote that the fine would “serve the desired purpose of deterring Trahant and others from engaging in similar misconduct”. Trahant was given 30 days to pay an amount that is far higher than any sanction typically given to lawyers.
Trahant would not comment on Grabill’s reasoning. But in a deposition during the leak investigation, a transcript of which is in the public record, Trahant said he believed he acted as any officer of a court of law should.
“I don’t believe I violated the [confidentiality] order” by alerting a school about a cleric who had previously engaged in misconduct with a teen, the attorney said.
“I’m going to do something about it 10 out of 10 times.”
Could California find itself in another conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court?
Nine California Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have asked the nation’s highest court to review their case against a 2019 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which created a three-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file legal claims against alleged perpetrators at school, church or elsewhere, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. The law also allowed defendants to be sued for a new offense: “cover up” activity.
In the April 15 petition, which was first reported last week by the Catholic News Agency, lawyers for the Catholic bishops assert the law is unconstitutional because California already gave victims a chance to sue in 2002 — when it opened a one-year portal for sex abuse survivors to file claims with no time limit attached — and because it retroactively adds new liabilities.
The lawyers wrote: “Review is critical now, before the Catholic Church in the largest State in the union is forced to litigate hundreds or thousands of cases seeking potentially billions of dollars in retroactive punitive damages under an unconstitutional double-revival regime.”
They added that their clients have already paid more than $1.2 billion to resolve claims filed during the original one-year window, and “to finance these settlements, they expended significant resources, sold vast swaths of Church property, and in some cases exhausted or relinquished insurance coverage for past and future abuse claims.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests slammed the bishops’ petition: “The 2002 window lasted one year, barely enough time for victims to find their courage or their voices. Many only heard about the window or found their courage too late. This new three-year window is allowing survivors in a huge state the time to speak out, get help, and come forward. We believe it is that bravery that is scaring California’s Catholic bishops.”
Newsom’s office declined to comment: “We have nothing to add at this time,” Daniel Lopez, Newsom’s deputy communications director, told me in an email.
In December, Newsom sought to counteract the court’s decision to let stand Texas’ six-week abortion banby proposing a bill to permit private Californians to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns.
In other reproductive justice news: Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes dropped criminal charges against Adora Perez, whom he had previously charged with manslaughter after she delivered a stillborn baby while high on methamphetamine. “California law is clear: We do not criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy,” Bonta said.