SNAP urges California Attorney General to release findings on Catholic sex abuse in the state

(For Immediate Release May 31, 2023) 

Early on May 31st the President and Treasurer of SNAP's Board of Directors, Shaun Dougherty and Dan McNevin, and Melanie Sakoda, SNAP's Survivor Support Coordinator, emailed California Attorney General Rob Bonta, urging him to release a report, or at least a preliminary report, on his findings on Catholic sex abuse in the state. SNAP feels very strongly that such a report is crucial at this juncture, as two Catholic dioceses have already declared bankruptcy in the wake of the civil window that closed at the end of 2022, and at least two others are considering it. We also believe that this tactic is not just to avoid paying restitution to the victims that Catholic cover-ups created, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, to curtail the public release of information on the extent of abuse and its cover-up in Catholic California.
There is a more complete explanation of our reasoning in the letter, which is set forth in its entirety below. While we know that bankruptcy is a federal procedure, we believe that the release of the information the Attorney General has collected since an investigation began three years ago would remove one of the incentives for California dioceses to choose this option. Similar reports have recently been released in Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
We hope that Attorney General Bonta will seriously consider our request. Dan and Melanie are available to meet with him or members of his staff to share more about the research we reference in the letter.
SNAP looks forward to receiving a positive response from Attorney General Bonta, and to sharing the results of our deep dive into what is already publicly known about Catholic sexual abuse in Northern California, as well as additional information gleaned from the cases that were filed during the three year civil window.

Contact: Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Shaun Dougherty, President, SNAP Board of Directors ([email protected],  814- 341-8386), 

Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-261-0578),  Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, 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

Multi-page Letter Below 


May 31, 2023


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

PO Box 16376

Chicago IL 60616


Attorney General Rob Bonta

Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550



Re: California Catholic Dioceses Declaring Bankruptcy in the Wake of CVA Lawsuits


Dear Attorney General Bonta:


Following the hundreds of lawsuits filed in California against Catholic entities during the recent three-year civil window, the Santa Rosa and Oakland Dioceses have declared bankruptcy. The San Diego Diocese says it will file in November, and Sacramento has indicated that it may consider filing. While we understand that bankruptcy is a federal procedure, we believe that there is something that your office can do to assist all the child victims who are seeking restitution from the Catholic Church, and more importantly, who are seeking information on who was responsible for the decisions that placed a perpetrator at their parish or school.


In our opinion, the purpose of these Catholic bankruptcies is not just to limit the monetary recoveries of child victims, but also to limit public information about the true extent of the abuse of boys and girls in this institution, as well as who participated in the cover-up of those crimes and allowed more children to be hurt. It is in this second area that we believe your office can help.


Three years ago, former Attorney General Xavier Becerra opened an investigation into how the state's twelve Catholic dioceses had addressed accusations of the sexual abuse of children by priests, nuns, religious brothers, lay employees, and volunteers. However, as of today, no report, or even a preliminary report, on the findings of the Attorney General’s office has been published. We are hoping that you will, at this important juncture, amend that situation. You may not be able to prevent the Catholic Church from severely limiting the recoveries of all these long-suffering victims, but you can expose publicly what you have learned over the past three years about the scope of their child sexual abuse and its cover-up in California.


SNAP has extensively analyzed the publicly available coordinated legal proceedings called 5108, which refers to the eight northern California dioceses. As you probably know, the Alameda County Superior Court is handling those cases. These are some statistics from 5108:


- nearly 1600 cases have been filed

- over 400 names will be new to the public if trends continue

- over 300 parishes, and 30 high schools, will be named as locations for abuse just in this CVA. Adding information from the 2003 CVA would likely increase the numbers of parishes and high schools affected.


Seven of the eight NorCal bishops have published lists that name 299 "credibly accused.” Our research in fact shows that over 900 abusive clerics worked in the NorCal region, more than tripling the seven hierarchs' numbers. We expect that those totals will climb as more NorCal and SoCal cases are made public.


We have also observed anomalous transfers from the San Francisco Archdiocese to the dioceses it spawned that should be examined. For example, in 1962 the Oakland Diocese received 145 clergy and seminarians from the Archdiocese, according to the Official Catholic Directory. Based on past and current litigation records, at least twenty-one (15%) of those men were eventually accused of abusing Oakland boys and girls. That is approximately one in six of the transfers. In a 2004 letter written by then San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, he acknowledged that 51 priests (1% of the Archdiocesan priest pool) were "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse. The offloading of 1 in 6 to Oakland would then seem to indicate something intentional.


The rates we see for the Santa Rosa Diocese are similar. At least 16% of the 1962 transfers went on to abuse children. 


Additionally, a bishop and vicar general from San Francisco are accused. How did they aid in the transfer and cover-up of abuse in San Francisco and elsewhere?


Oakland now has over 330 lawsuits pending against it and its eighty-two parishes and nine high schools. Santa Rosa, with forty-one parishes and three high schools, is facing over 200 claims. A question is, how many claims is San Francisco facing? The Archdiocese has never published a list of accused. Who are the 51 abusers that Archbishop Levada acknowledged, and were they among those transferred to these other places now facing bankruptcy?


All three dioceses created from San Francisco in 1962 have now declared bankruptcy, if you include the 2014 Stockton Diocese bankruptcy. Is it possible each was cleaved off primarily to sequester molesters and remove them from San Francisco, which currently serves three of the richest counties in the state?


We note that both Santa Rosa and Oakland also have either bishops or chancellors themselves accused of abuse. Some of those leaders are still alive and could have been interviewed under oath in the pending lawsuits. We cannot help but wonder if the bankruptcies were simply part of a concerted effort to prevent that testimony from becoming public?


Another question worth asking relates to religious work visas. Is the religious visa program being abused to bring dangerous men into the United States with limited scrutiny? Some of these foreign clergy fled when accused or investigated, including in recent years. Were the flights aided by Church leaders, and were mandatory reporter laws broken? We have observed that there seem to have been a particularly high number of these clerics in the Diocese of Sacramento, which would seem to warrant investigation.


Finally, the Catholic Church is a magnet for legal and illegal Hispanic migrants, and it is masterful at recruiting priests proficient in the language and culture to help it grow these communities. Illegal immigrants are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Have you discovered anything in your investigation about this that should be revealed to the public?


Your office has already done three very important things: it has opened a hotline for tips from survivors, it has issued subpoenas for Church documents from six dioceses, and it has asked the leaders of all twelve California dioceses to not destroy any records.


You are now able to triangulate the information you have gathered with the data coming from this CVA, and with the analysis we can supply. The public deserves to know what you have already uncovered, and policy makers need that data to make informed legislation. Moreover, victims need some type of closure, especially if their legal efforts are to be undone by these self-serving bankruptcies.


Representatives from SNAP and met with your office back in 2019. SNAP would like to do so again, so that we can share the details of what is described briefly in this letter, providing your office with the benefit of our research. If now is not the time to meet, we would be happy to transmit our complete findings. Let us know either way. 


Again, we hope that you will do what you can to help child victims of abuse in the Catholic Church, by eliminating one of the benefits of filing for bankruptcy under federal law. That is, we urge you to release a report, or at least a preliminary report, about what you have found concerning child sexual abuse in the Church in California. To this day, there is limited visibility in the state into how the Church manages -- or mismanages -- its abuse problems. With nearly 4000 statewide cases, the time to unveil these secrets is now and that opportunity should not be squandered.




Shaun Dougherty, President

SNAP Board of Directors

[email protected]



Dan McNevin, Treasurer

SNAP Board of Directors

[email protected]



Melanie Sakoda

SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator


[email protected]


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