Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, shares important news in response to the lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese under the Child Victims Act.
August 4, 2023
Dear Friends in Christ:
As many of you may know, Catholic dioceses in California have undergone two “open window” periods allowing individuals under civil law to bring claims for childhood sexual abuse that otherwise would have been barred due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
In 2002, the California Legislature permitted certain expired claims of childhood sexual abuse not only against the perpetrators but also against third-party defendants (like the dioceses) for a one-year period starting January 1, 2003. This resulted in the Archdiocese of San Francisco selling excess property and drawing on insurance coverage to pay approximately $68 million to roughly 100 plaintiffs to settle claims.
In 2019, the State of California again removed the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims for non-profit organizations, opening a new three-year window allowing cases to be filed against the Archdiocese through December 31, 2022. This resulted in more than 500 civil lawsuits being filed against the Archdiocese. The judge assigned to us has set an imminent trial date for one of the initial cases against the Archdiocese.
I want you to know that, as with the 2003 window, the vast majority of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and involved priests who are deceased or no longer in ministry. In addition to deceased individuals who can no longer defend themselves, a significant number of these claims include unnamed individuals or named individuals who are unknown to the Archdiocese.
For several months now, with the assistance of our financial and legal advisors, we have been investigating the best options for managing and resolving these cases. After much contemplation and prayer, I wish to inform you that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization is very likely. It would allow the Archdiocese to achieve two very important goals. First, Chapter 11 is a process that brings all parties together in one place to resolve difficult claims fairly and equitably under the supervision of the bankruptcy court, allowing the Archdiocese to deal with the hundreds of cases collectively rather than one at a time. That could result in a faster resolution for hundreds of survivors, providing them with fair compensation and finally, hopefully, some peace and closure. Secondly, Chapter 11 would allow the Archdiocese to reorganize its financial affairs to continue its vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity.
If a Chapter 11 is filed, only the legal entity, The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, a Corporation Sole, would be included. The operations of our parishes and schools should continue as usual without disruption, as should the activities of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese would join a growing list of dioceses in the United States and California that have filed for protection under the bankruptcy laws. Some of these dioceses have already restructured and emerged from this process.
I am deeply saddened by the sinful acts and the damage caused to the lives of innocent children who put their trust in priests, staff, and volunteers of the Church. I pray for the survivors every day that they will someday find peace. Throughout my service of more than a decade as Archbishop of San Francisco, I have maintained the unwavering commitment to fighting sexual abuse of minors and helping the Church atone for the sins of the past perpetuated by her ministers. I have appointed diligent and serious people to manage our safe environment program, which continues to engage in regular education, background screening, and fingerprinting of employees and volunteers who work with minors.
At the heart of our outreach to survivors is creating a welcoming environment and compassionate assistance. The Archdiocese provides various services to assist survivors, including counseling and spiritual direction.
By utilizing a stringent screening process and enhancing awareness and education for children and adults, the occurrences of abuse within the Church are very rare. Today, I believe the Catholic Church sets the standard for other organizations, showing what can and should be done to protect our children.
The situation remains very fluid, and given the anxiety this scenario understandably presents, we have updated the Protecting Children questions and answers on our website to address some obvious concerns you may have.
I remain committed to the healing and care of survivors who have suffered irreversible harm because of the sins of the Church’s ministers and ask you to join me in praying for our Archdiocese, parish communities, schools, and all the survivors of sexual abuse. In particular, I ask you to commit, or renew your commitment, to Living the Consecration that I called for on October 7, 2017, when, in response to a request from many of our people, I consecrated our Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
While a great majority of these sins were committed many decades ago, it is a sign of Christian solidarity that we join together in praying the rosary daily and at least once a week as a family, spending an hour of adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament once a week, and fasting on Fridays for the survivors of abuse, for the mission of our Archdiocese, and for the eradication of this shameful crime from our society as a whole. God is pleased by such prayer and penance, and doing so will open our hearts to the blessings He wishes to lavish upon us.
May God shower you and your families with His grace during these difficult times.
Sincerely yours in Christ, our Prince of Peace,
Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
Frequently asked questions in response to lawsuits filed against the diocese under the Child Victims Act.
u003cstrongu003eArchdiocese of San Francisco | General FAQs: AB-218 Updateu003c/strongu003e
After consulting with its financial and legal advisors over the past several months, the Archdiocese has determined that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization would be one of the best options for managing and resolving these cases. It would allow the Archdiocese to achieve two very important goals.
First, the Chapter 11 process brings all parties together to resolve difficult claims fairly and equitably under the supervision of the bankruptcy court. Cases could be dealt with collectively rather than one at a time. That could result in a faster resolution for survivors, providing them with fair compensation and closure. It eliminates a scenario where the first few cases that are resolved expend all available resources to pay claims, leaving nothing for survivors whose cases are resolved later. Secondly, Chapter 11 would allow the Archdiocese to reorganize its financial affairs to continue its vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on its services and charity.
If a filing were to occur, only the legal entity, The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, a Corporation Sole, would be included in the filing. Parishes, schools, and other ministries associated with the Archdiocese would not be included. The operations of parishes and schools would continue as usual without disruption, as would the activities of the Archdiocese. Other ministries, such as St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, Catholic Charities, and our cemeteries would also continue their operations as usual.
A Chapter 11 filing should not have any direct effect on jobs in the Archdiocese. Employees of companies and non-profit organizations that file to restructure under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code continue to work and receive their wages and benefits during the process and beyond.
Chapter 11 is a legal mechanism for court-supervised reorganization or restructuring of an organization’s obligations. Chapter 11 provides a way for an organization to address its financial condition in order to remain a viable entity, while continuing day-to-day operations.
No. Any gifts restricted for specific purposes such as the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal are held in trust by the Archdiocese and can only be used for their intended purpose. Because parishes would not be included in the bankruptcy, their offertory could not be used for abuse case settlements. Please continue to support your parish and the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal so our many good works can continue.
Given the seriousness and complexity of the situation and the importance of providing survivors with fair and equitable compensation, it is unclear how long the process might take. Other dioceses that have gone through this process have taken between one and three years. The Archdiocese would work to emerge from Chapter 11 as quickly as possible.
No. Because the cost of litigating more than 500 claims would certainly exceed our resources, Chapter 11 is likely the most viable option for compensating survivors fairly and equitably. Otherwise, parties who filed first and were able to resolve their litigation could have an unfair advantage over claimants who have their cases heard later. Chapter 11 allows all claimants equal access and an equitable share in the assets available to pay claims. It is a court-supervised, transparent process that allows for the evaluation of the merits of each claim and gives claimants a say in the outcome and visibility into the proceedings and Archdiocesan finances. This action would allow the Archdiocese to address these matters in a comprehensive manner, move forward with its essential services and mission, and provide survivors with a faster, more equitable resolution.
While we don’t know today how much money will be needed to fund a potential Chapter 11 process, we believe we would be able to reach a fair and equitable outcome for all survivors and provide just compensation to the innocent people who were harmed, while allowing the Archdiocese to reorganize its financial affairs to continue its vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity.
Yes. More than two dozen U.S. dioceses have filed for Chapter 11, including most recently the Diocese of Oakland in California and the Diocese of Ogdensburg in New York. For those 18 or so dioceses that have resolved their bankruptcies, all have been able to successfully emerge and continue their ministries and support their communities.
The operational decisions of the Catholic schools and parishes associated with the Archdiocese of San Francisco would continue to be made based on sound mission and business judgements.
A Chapter 11 filing would trigger a “stay” that essentially would freeze all litigation against the Archdiocese. We would work with all survivors through the Chapter 11 process to finalize a fair and equitable settlement of the litigation claims. The claims and settlement would be part of the Archdiocese’s Plan of Reorganization and must be approved by the Court before it can emerge from bankruptcy.
u003cstrongu003ePromise to Protect; Pledge to Healu003c/strongu003e
u003cemu003e“Jesus said, ‘If you remain in My Word, you will truly be My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ We can pray that this season of suffering will become a time of truth and of clarity, so that new light will break into our darkness, and we can find a path toward healing for all members of the Body of Christ.”u003c/emu003e
How to report abuse
If anyone has reason to believe or suspect there is or has been abuse involving clergy, employees, volunteers, or children attending Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, or other church-related events, those suspicions or allegations are to be reported first to civil authorities. Subsequently, they should be reported to the Archdiocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, unless the report involves the Archbishop himself.
The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service has been established and was activated in March 2020 to receive reports of sexual abuse and related misconduct by bishops, and to relay those reports to proper Church authorities for investigation. Where a report includes a crime, such as the sexual abuse of a minor, it will also be reported to civil authorities. Otherwise, reports will be kept confidential. Reporting may be made at ReportBishopAbuse.org or 800-276-1562.
Sexual abuse by a priest, deacon or a staff member or volunteer of the Church should be reported to the Archdiocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Rocio Rodriguez.
Rocio Rodriguez, LMFT, Victim Assistance Coordinator
Every allegation will be treated seriously and immediate steps taken to protect the alleged victim-survivor(s). These actions will be taken discreetly so as to protect the confidentiality and the rights of both the victim-survivor and the alleged abuser.
State law requires people in certain positions to make such reports. These people are referred to as “Mandatory Reporters”. All other adults, called “Ethical Reporters” should also report suspected abuse.
Investigation following the report should be left to duly appointed professionals.
u003cbru003eu003cbru003eInstructions for Reporting Abuse
Cases of alleged abuse in which the abuser and the victim-survivor are of the same household are to be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS), while cases in which the alleged victim-survivor and the accused do not share a household should be reported to law enforcement authorities (sheriff’s department or local police).
What happens when someone reports an allegation of abuse to the Archdiocese?
The Victim Assistance Coordinator will ask if this has been reported to Child Protective Services or the Police Department. If not, the Victim Assistance Coordinator will inform the person that the policy of the Archdiocese is to report the matter to the proper civil authorities. If the victim-survivor is a current minor the report is made to Child Protective Services if the abuser and victim-survivor are living in the same household. If the alleged minor victim-survivor and the accused do not share a household the report is made to the Sheriff’s Department or Police Department. If the victim-survivor is no longer a minor the report is made to the local District Attorney’s office (see above).
The preliminary facts gathered by the Victim Assistance Coordinator will be referred to a qualified investigator (i.e. retired policeman/woman) who prepares a detailed report for consideration by the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board (IRB). When the preliminary investigation (e.g. the initial information gathered by the Victim Assistance Coordinator and /or the supplemental information obtained by the investigator) so indicates, the alleged perpetrator shall be relieved of active employment/ministry (placed on administrative leave) pending the conclusion of the investigation. The Archdiocesan Independent Review Board (IRB) then makes its recommendation to the Archbishop as to whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain that the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.
The Archbishop and/or the Victim Assistance Coordinator will share the finding of the Independent Review Board and the Archbishop’s determination concerning the investigation with the alleged victim-survivor and perpetrator. In the event there is a determination that abuse occurred and the alleged perpetrator is a clergyman, he will be informed of his canonical right to request a canonical trial. If a clergyman admits that the abuse occurred, or chooses not to contest the matter, or the finding is sustained at trial then, pursuant to the USCCB document, Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal – USCCB (revised 2018), the individual will be permanently removed from ministry.
The u003cstrongu003eVictim Assistance Coordinatoru003c/strongu003e (VAC) is a licensed therapist and can be reached directly at (415) 614-5506, a secure line. The VAC is available to help victims-survivors make a formal complaint to the Archdiocese and offers assistance with psychotherapy, spiritual direction, and referrals to other supportive services. The Archdiocese maintains a u003cstrongu003eVictim-Survivor Help Lineu003c/strongu003e at (415) 614-5503, a secure line answered by victim-survivors.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eu003cstrongu003eu003ca href=u0022https://sfarch.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/PRIESTS-AND-DEACONS-WITH-FACULTIES-IN-THE-ARCHDIOCESE-OF-SAN-FRANCISCO-7-12-2023.pdfu0022u003eCLICK HEREu003c/au003e to access a list of names of priests and deacons in good standing who have faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.u003c/strongu003e
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109
San Francisco, California 94109
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109
SAN FRANCISCO, California 94109