AHEAD OF ABUSE CLAIMS DIOCESE OF SANTA ROSA TO DECLARE BANKRUPTCY
(For Immediate Release December 2, 2022)
In a move that we believe is intended to prevent the public from learning the full extent of clergy abuse within its borders, the Diocese of Santa Rosa, CA has declared bankruptcy. Given the timing of this filing as well as how other dioceses around the country have subverted bankruptcy court and used it to protect secrets, not assets, it is hard to believe that the diocese is as indigent as it is claiming.
This filing comes in advance of the first clergy abuse trials resulting from a three-year extension that gave adult survivors of child sexual abuse in California until Dec. 31 to file civil suits related to their experiences. The move would freeze at least 130 new cases already added to a consolidated case list administered through the Alameda County courthouse, which includes lawsuits from the rest of Northern California that have been filed since the three-year window opened at the beginning of 2020. For a religious organization whose incessant claim is ‘truth and transparency,’ they certainly are not afraid to run for safety. It is a sad day for transparency and justice.
With more lawsuits looming and the Church’s history of choosing to suppress its files, we are not surprised by this decision. According to our records, Santa Rosa is one of California's most impacted dioceses. From 1970 to 1995, we found an average of 20 abusers assigned to the diocese each year. If each of those men had been assigned to a different parish, three out of five parishes would have been hosting abusers, placing six out of 10 children in danger of being abused.
The misuse of bankruptcy court is a long-established practice for Catholic Church officials, and we cannot ignore the fact that the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa said in their 2021-2022 annual report that ‘it was their biggest year ever.” Bankruptcy freezes the discovery of plaintiffs suing it, limiting the damage of sworn testimony and the obligation of defendants to honestly answer written questions known as "interrogatories." In short, by declaring bankruptcy, Santa Rosa church officials can refuse to accept responsibility for abuse and cover-ups that occurred while they were in charge. Even worse, bankruptcy will cut off anyone who doesn’t come forward during this process. If abuse occurs before the deadline, they are left with no civil recourse.
This concern is made much starker when one realizes that, according to our data, abusers were undoubtedly housed in every parish and high school within the diocese. Even worse, the Diocese of Santa Rosa is associated with two bishops who were allegedly involved in abuse cases: Bishop Ziemann, who was allowed a long career despite abuse claims dating back to 1968, and Bishop John Nienstedt, who resigned in Minnesota and relocated to Santa Rosa. In another twist, James Pulskamp, the most powerful and longest-serving Chancellor, has been accused of abuse. We have no doubt that the bankruptcy is intended to prevent him from testifying under oath.
We can’t help but wonder if Rev. Robert Vasa, the new Coadjutor Bishop of Santa Rosa knows how physically, mentally, and spiritually bankrupt victims feel. In the meantime, church officials should immediately update their list of abusers to include the new names from recent court filings and any discovered during the projected bankruptcy process, and then use every resource available to ensure parishioners and parents are notified at each location where an abuser worked. Similarly, they should turn over all information about sex crimes to local law enforcement, regardless of the abuser's status.
CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Mike McDonnell, Communications Manager (267-261-0578, [email protected]) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)