California Franciscans file for bankruptcy; SNAP reacts
For Immediate Release: January 5, 2024
The Franciscan Friars of California said in a January 2nd statement that they have filed for Chapter 11 protection in the US Bankruptcy Court in Oakland. The religious order said it was facing 94 lawsuits filed in the recently closed civil window. Fr. David Gaa, the provincial minister of the Friars, claimed that bankruptcy was the “only path” to ensure "just financial compensation" for these survivors. Fr. Gaa explained that "The bankruptcy will not only take account of the friars’ assets, but it will also prevent the abuse survivors from having to compete for the earliest or more substantial claims.
SNAP Executive Director, Mike McDonnell said, ‘It is very concerning that these institutions, despite having the financial means to provide reparations to long-suffering victims, are shamelessly claiming insolvency. This is an unacceptable evasion of responsibility that cannot go unnoticed. The devastating impact of abuse on victims' lives emphasizes that their trajectories were forever altered from the moment they experienced such heinous acts. It is truly disheartening to read phrases like "to compete for the earliest or more substantial claims," as it further underscores the Church's unwillingness to rectify the wreckage of the past.’
In our opinion, it is simply not true that bankruptcy is the only way to achieve “just financial compensation” in all of the victims’ lawsuits. In the last California window, universal agreements were reached between the Church, survivors, and their attorneys, without the need to resort to bankruptcy.
In a bankruptcy, those who have filed civil actions become “creditors.” The court will allow a certain period for other “creditors” – victims -- to come forward. However, once the bankruptcy proceeds to its conclusion, anyone abused before the filing date who did not come forward is barred from ever filing a lawsuit. This would include those who do not remember their abuse, those who do not understand the impact it has had on their life, those who are not yet ready to speak out, and – most disturbingly -- those children who are too young to understand that they needed to file a claim before the bar date.
In their statement, the Franciscans also said, "All of the claims are based on abuse that allegedly occurred at least 27 years ago, with several claims dating back to the 1940s." However, delayed disclosure of child sexual abuse is the rule. Trauma-informed experts say most victims disclose between the ages of 50-70. The draconian consequence of this bankruptcy will be that those abused more recently will never have the opportunity to receive compensation for their injuries from the organization that hurt them.
Last year California adopted a law removing the civil statute of limitations for child sex crimes completely. However, for those survivors abused in Catholic institutions that see a bankruptcy to completion, the legislative intent of this reform -- to allow just compensation for life-long injuries -- will be thwarted for decades.
In addition, the bankruptcy courts do not normally concern themselves with protecting today’s boys and girls, or with learning who made the decisions that resulted in children being harmed. However, we do not think it is in the public interest for the names of child predators, and those who enabled them, to remain secret.
Our review of litigation records just in Northern California shows 35 claims involving 25 friars. The names of the majority of those friars -- 15 – do not appear on the Franciscan’s "credibly accused" list. False accusations of child sex abuse are extremely, extremely rare. Catholics and the public should be made aware of the missing names. In addition, we cannot help but wonder how many others are not on the list, but should be. Once this bankruptcy concludes, we may never learn about those perpetrators
Beyond the names of the accused, we also believe that it is important to know when and where these assaults occurred, and for how long. We also think it is crucial to know in which dioceses the abuse occurred, and on the watch of which bishop. It is also vital to learn if/when the abuse was reported to the religious order or the diocese where the friar worked, who knew about the accusation, and what was done with the information. If abuse reports were ignored or concealed, Catholics and the public should be told whether these officials are still in decision-making positions.
The Franciscan statement also noted that most of the friars named in the claims are deceased. "Of the six living friars, all have been long removed permanently from all public ministry and ministerial environments and are living under strict third-party supervision." Again, we think that it is important for Catholics and the public, particularly those people who may live around these men, to know where they are housed, and exactly what “strict third-party supervision” entails. A child’s future could depend on this information becoming public.
This bankruptcy will have advantages for the Franciscans. For those who suffered from child sex crimes committed by friars, and for today’s boys and girls, there is no upside to this legal tactic. SNAP believes that children, not secrets, are what needs to be protected.
CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Dan McNevin, SNAP Board of Directors Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP Northern California ([email protected], 925-262-3699), Dorothy Small, SNAP Sacramento Area Leader, ([email protected], 530-908-3676), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)