Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco files for bankruptcy; SNAP urges federal court to examine claim carefully

(For Immediate Release August 21, 2023) 

The only California diocese that has refused to post a list of abusers today filed for bankruptcy. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, hopes that the federal judge will examine the case carefully. Although the survivors’ group is certain that the Archdiocese is morally bankrupt, it does not believe that it is as financially strapped as it claims.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has repeatedly declined to divulge names of the perpetrators in his see, despite requests from survivors. SNAP knows that when such lists are published, there are always new perpetrators revealed from information in the "secret files."  This lack of transparency in San Francisco has kept parishioners and the public unaware of all of the hazards that lurked in the Archdiocese. We believe that the primary impetus for this bankruptcy is to keep information about abusers hidden.

We seriously doubt that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does not have the assets to settle these lawsuits, and we find it disturbing that Archbishop Cordileone claimed this is the "best way" for victims' lawsuits to be resolved. We can only hope that the federal judge closely examines the Archdiocese’s real estate holdings, which are spread across three of the richest counties in the United States. We also hope that the judge will not be fooled by the fact that title to some property is held by churches, schools, or other Catholic entities. Should the Archbishop decide to liquidate those assets, the holder of the title will likely find themselves powerless to stop him.

It is also very important to remember that this legal maneuver does not just affect those survivors who have filed lawsuits. Once the deadline for claims in the bankruptcy has passed, any recourse for victims injured before that deadline are also all extinguished. Even a six-year old, who is being abused now but whose assaults end before the deadline, would be prevented from suing for reparations. If no fund for future claims is set up as part of the bankruptcy, or if it is empty when that child is finally able to come forward, they will not receive any compensation for their injuries.

In his press release, Archbishop Cordileone repeated the tired trope that “Today, occurrences of abuse within the Catholic Church are very rare." It is dangerous and disingenuous for the Archbishop to knowingly spread this disinformation.  Trauma-informed experts say it can take 40 or more years for victims to come forward. The average age of reporting is 52. So, accusations that surfaced in the recently closed window about abuse in the 1980s and earlier are to be expected. In the 2003 window, the majority of cases were from the 1960's and early 1970's, also reflecting this forty-year time lag. In ten years, if there is another window, and if survivors are not prevented from coming forward by this bankruptcy, we would see many reports from the 1990s.

Each month Catholic clergy, religious brothers and sisters, employees and volunteers, are still being arrested for crimes against today's children, and those arrests likely account for only a very small percentage of the abuse currently being perpetrated in parishes and schools. In fact, it was reported just recently that a Marin Catholic High School staff member was under investigation, accused of sending inappropriate electronic communications of a sexual nature to an underage altar server at his Oakland parish. The high school where he taught is in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

We also observe that the Archbishop himself has allowed clergy accused of abuse to remain in ministry. A priest who was accused of abuse in 2002 was an Archdiocesan priest until at least 2021, eight of those years under Archbishop Cordileone's watch. Six new accusations against that clergyman have been made in this window, and who knows how many more might be made before 2061. Moreover, three Archdiocesan clerics accused in current lawsuits were briefly removed and then returned to ministry by Archbishop Cordileone. One of them is also facing multiple accusations. False allegations of abuse are rare. Multiple false allegations are ever rarer.

This bankruptcy will have many advantages for Archbishop Cordileone. For those who suffered from child sex crimes committed in the Archdiocese, there is no upside to this cruel and, in our opinion, unjustified legal tactic. SNAP believes that children, not secrets and assets, are what need to be protected.

Contact: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board of Directors Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP Northern California ([email protected], 925-262-3699), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is


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