The Catholic Diocese of Oakland announced on Monday that it filed for bankruptcy amid 330 sex abuse lawsuits in an effort to stabilize its finances, the group said.
Most of the claims center on sex abuse crimes that occurred in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by priests who are no longer active in ministry or are deceased, the diocese said.
In a letter to parishioners, Bishop Michael C. Barber said the diocese believes “this process is the best way to ensure a fair and equitable outcome for survivors.”
“It is important we take responsibility for the damage done so we can all move beyond this moment and provide survivors with some measure of peace. Sadly, for many, the pain caused by these horrific sins, no matter when they occurred, will never wash away, which is why we offer support to survivors and pray for their continued healing,” he wrote.
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The bankruptcy will allow the diocese to “stabilize its finances and continue the sacred mission entrusted to us by Christ and the Church,” Barber added.
All Catholic schools that operate in the diocese will not be impacted, as they are separate legal entities and are not included in the filing. Vendors will also be paid for all goods and services delivered after the filing, the diocese said.
California had allowed time-barred and expired cases to be filed by alleged survivors, spurring the lawsuits. The filing comes as attendance for Catholic mass dropped 42% in 2021 and as the church deals with an aging clergy, the diocese said.
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California Assembly Bill 218 temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits against any institution accused of enabling abuse. Barber said the church “could not shoulder” the burden of litigating the hundreds of cases.
The Survivors Network, known as SNAP, said the bankruptcy is an attempt to deny justice and transparency to survivors.
“Everything about this bankruptcy strikes us as wrong,” the group said in a statement. “It is all about keeping money and secrets. From one coast to the other, the same ruse is being used by Catholic bishops. Minimize and cover-up child sex crimes, while keeping abusers in ministry.”
It called the diocese a “morally bankrupt” organization that doesn’t deserve to be declared financially bankrupt.
The Catholic church has come under heavy scrutiny over allegations of sex abuse by priests dating back decades and alleged efforts by the church to cover it up.
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“We know the pain inflicted against our children and young people decades ago continues to cause great suffering,” Barber said. “I am deeply sorrowful about this reality and pray daily for all impacted. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, there is sin and evil in the world, even in our Church. But there is also virtue and mercy in abundance. We must address the sin and move forward as instruments of God’s mercy and holiness.”
The Diocese of Oakland serves two counties in the East Bay region, Alameda and Contra Costa counties and includes around 550,000 Catholics in 82 parishes.