Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Oakland diocese files for bankruptcy over child sex abuse lawsuits

 Diocese of Oakland files for bankruptcy in wake of hundreds of sex abuse  lawsuits | News | |

The Diocese of Oakland has announced it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in light of over 330 lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse.

In a press release, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Oakland says that the lawsuits have come after a new California statute allows claims that have expired to be filed. 

RCBO says that most of the claims are from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s by priests who have either died or are no longer active.

The release states that filing for Chapter 11 will allow "for the evaluation of the merits of each claim and gives claimants a say in the outcome and visibility into the proceedings and RCBO's finances."

The filing will also pause the trials that were set to happen in May, to allow RCBO to reorganize and make a plan for settlements.

Catholic schools in the diocese are not included in the filing and will continue to operate as normal, and vendors will still be paid for all goods and services delivered.

The press release also says that the mission and ministries will continue to operate.

"After careful consideration of the various alternatives for providing just compensation to innocent people who were harmed, we believe this process is the best way to ensure a fair and equitable outcome for survivors," Bishop Michael C. Barber said. "It will also allow RCBO to stabilize its finances and continue the sacred mission entrusted to us by Christ and the Church. Given our current financial resources, RCBO could not shoulder the burden of litigating 330 cases filed under the recent California Assembly Bill 218."

Attorney Spencer Lucas represents 50 survivors. He calls the bankruptcy filing a historic day for his clients.

"We look forward to this being an opportunity for us to help our clients obtain accountability and compensation in the bankruptcy process," said Lucas.

Sherry Waterworth is a survivor, who is skeptical about receiving any compensation from the Diocese, post chapter 11.

"Time will tell if it's truly for the survivors or not. It sounds like the diocese knew a lot and was not forthcoming when I was a child in the '70s, I hope that will change and they'll come to the table and be honest," said Waterworth.

Joey Piscitelli believes the filing may prevent other survivors like him from coming forward.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa filed for bankruptcy Monday, citing new lawsuits from more than 200 survivors of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Now that the Legislature has allowed some of the victims to come forward and seek compensation, the diocese is filing bankruptcy and they want you to feel sorry for them, we feel that's despicable," said Piscitelli.

The Chapter 11 filing comes at a time when dioceses nationwide are facing the challenge of declining attendance among Catholics and fewer priests.

According to the Oakland diocese, mass attendance dropped 42 percent in 2021, from 2019 due to the pandemic. Down 46 percent from a 5-year average.

In 2021, the Bishop organized the Mission alignment process to address declining participation in its 82 parishes, some of which are "underutilized" according to the diocese.

Meantime, others are calling for more accountability from the church during the bankruptcy process.

"This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, the diocese will be forced to put up significant financial compensation and we hope the diocese will disclose assets and how mistakes on behalf of children were made," said Lucas.

Survivors of clergy abuse are able to get counseling and support through the Diocesan Office of Victims Assistance.

In March, the Diocese of Santa Rosa filed for bankruptcy, citing lawsuits from more than 200 survivors of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.