The Archdiocese of San Francisco, known for its outspoken conservative leadership, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone announced on Monday. The filing is intended to protect the archdiocese from what Archbishop Cordileone described as more than 500 civil lawsuits filed against it under a state law passed in 2019 that extended the statute of limitations for civil claims in child sexual abuse cases.
“We believe the bankruptcy process is the best way to provide a compassionate and equitable solution for survivors of abuse while ensuring that we continue the vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity,” Archbishop Cordileone said in a letter addressed to Catholics in San Francisco.
Archbishop Cordileone signaled the bankruptcy earlier this month, warning publicly that the filing was “very likely.”
San Francisco is the third archdiocese in the state to file for bankruptcy this year. The dioceses of Oakland and Santa Rosa filed in the spring, citing the number of sexual abuse lawsuits filed against them. The diocese of San Diego, one of the largest in the state, announced in May that it planned to file later this year.
Overall, about a dozen dioceses and archdioceses in the United States are currently in bankruptcy proceedings, according to a list maintained by Marie T. Reilly, a professor at Penn State Law. Still more have emerged from bankruptcy.
The vast majority of documented abuses in Catholic institutional settings took place decades ago, making it challenging for victims to seek legal recourse. But some states, including California and New York, where the majority of pending bankruptcies are, have enacted a “look-back window” in recent years that allows victims to bring civil claims that would otherwise be barred by statutes of limitations.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco, which includes about 450,000 Catholics, is the only diocese in the state to not have released a list of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse, according to lawyers and survivors’ advocacy groups. Instead, the archdiocese maintains a list of priests and deacons in good standing, and removes men from the list if they are under investigation for child sexual abuse.
Archbishop Cordileone, who has led the archdiocese since being appointed to the role by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, is an outspoken voice in the ultraconservative wing of the American Catholic Church. He helped lead Catholic efforts to pass Prop 8, a 2008 state constitutional amendment intended to ban same-sex marriage in the state.
More recently, he has repeatedly confronted former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who represents much of San Francisco, over her support for abortion rights, saying last year that she would not be permitted to receive communion in the archdiocese.
The filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy will halt claims against the archdiocese, while it develops a reorganization plan based on its assets and insurance.
The archdiocese itself is the only entity included in the filing, Archbishop Cordileone said in the statement. Parochial schools and individual parishes, which the archdiocese said are independently managed and self-financed, will not be affected.