San Francisco Archdiocese threatening bankruptcy; SNAP reacts

For immediate release: August 4, 2023

On August 4, 2023, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco issued a letter to parishioners in response to questions from The San Francisco Chronicle. The Archbishop wrote to the faithful, “After much contemplation and prayer, I wish to inform you that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization is very likely.

Everything about the bankruptcies of Catholic dioceses strikes us as wrong. It is all about protecting secrets first, and second, to reduce just compensation to the victims they have created. From one coast to the other, the same ruse is being used. First, minimize and cover-up child sex crimes, while keeping abusers in ministry. Then, fight against changes to the civil statute of limitations which would expose those crimes. Finally, when secular laws provide a window to justice, go to federal bankruptcy courts and pretend that they are out of money.

We seriously doubt that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does not have the assets to settle these lawsuits. But we do know that San Francisco is one of a handful of dioceses that has not published a list of abusers, and also that when such lists are published, there are always new perpetrators revealed from information in the "secret files." The Archdiocese may indeed be morally bankrupt, as evidenced by their refusal to publish information about abusers that are known to them, but we doubt that they are really financially bankrupt. If they do file, we hope that the federal judge closely examines their real estate holdings, which are spread across three of the richest counties in the United States, as well as any transfers of assets to other entities over the past twenty years.

In his bankruptcy statement, Archbishop Cordileone repeated the tired trope that Catholic abuse is "in the past." 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, we will see many reports from the 1990s.

We also observe that the Archbishop deflected any personal responsibility for crimes committed in his see, writing, "Throughout my service of more than a decade as Archbishop of San Francisco, I have maintained the unwavering commitment to fighting sexual abuse of minors and helping the Church atone for the sins of the past perpetuated by her ministers." Yet a priest who was accused of abuse in 2002 was allowed to remain in ministry 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 facing multiple allegations.

In addition, 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 being currently perpetrated in parishes and schools. In fact, it was reported just recently that a Marin Catholic High School staff member is under investigation, accused of sending inappropriate electronic communications of a sexual nature to an underage altar server at his Oakland parish. The high school is in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

What strikes us as further evidence of the moral bankruptcy of Catholic hierarchs is 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.

A bankruptcy would have many advantages for Archbishop Cordileone. For those who suffered from 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. We hope that parishioners and the public who agree with us will write to the Archbishop and voice their displeasure.

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