Santa Rosa Diocese files for bankruptcy after being slapped with over 200 sex abuse lawsuits
Cross (Shuttershock)

The Diocese of Santa Rosa in California has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after being deluged in hundreds of lawsuits over child sexual abuse, CBS Bay Area reported on Tuesday.

"This decision was made necessary due to the number of child sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the Diocese over the course of the past three years," Bishop Robert Vasa said in a press release.

According to the report, the diocese faces more than 200 lawsuits as a result of a law passed by California legislators in 2019, establishing a three-year period in which the statute of limitation on childhood sexual abuse cases was suspended and people whose abuse would otherwise have been too long ago to sue could file claims.

"These cases are too numerous to settle individually and so they have accumulated until the closing of the three-year window," said Vasa, who noted that the diocese has already paid out $35 million in settlements for sexual abuse cases that were in statute. "A bankruptcy allows the Diocese to deal with all these issues collectively rather than one at a time. At the same time, the process provides a way for the Diocese to continue the various charitable ministries in which it is engaged."

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The move was met with outrage from attorneys representing the victims, who accuse the diocese of abusing bankruptcy proceedings to avoid paying the full damages for which they are liable.

"This is a pattern already revealed in San Diego and other states where the statute of limitations was previously opened," said lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents 78 of the victims, noting that the diocese is also facing a lawsuit alleging it improperly transferred assets to shield them from legal proceedings.

Catholic dioceses, who have grappled with alleged abuse and coverups for decades, are not alone in facing scandal.

Last year, leaders of the Southern Baptist Conference published a list of hundreds of ministers and other church officials accused of sexual abuse, following accusations that they had covered up this information from parishioners for years. And a recent investigation found that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for years suppressed any reporting of sexual abuse among Mormon parishioners, directing those who confessed or were accused to church attorneys rather than law enforcement.