Abuse Lawsuits - Diocese of Oakland Files for Bankruptcy
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On May 8, Bishop Michael Barber announced that the Diocese of Oakland, California, has filed for bankruptcy protection. This decision follows less than a month after Bishop Barber revealed that the diocese was seriously considering this course of action due to the anticipated influx of child sexual abuse lawsuits that exceeded the statute of limitations, taking advantage of a three-year legal window.
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Child abuse lawsuits are bankrupting the Diocese of Oakland.
In 2019, the state of California passed legislation that granted a three-year exemption to the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits. The legal window began on January 1, 2020, and ended on January 2, 2023.
In a letter addressed to the people of his diocese, Bishop Barber stated that there are over 330 claims of child sexual abuse, with the majority alleging incidents that occurred between 1960 and 1989. According to the diocese's website, three of the accusations pertain to abuse occurring within the last two decades, while the majority of the allegations are related to incidents before 2003.
Late Bishop Floyd Begin, the first bishop of the Diocese of Oakland who served from 1962, is among the accused. NBC Bay Area reported in February that a lawsuit filed in December 2022 accused him of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in 1968. Bishop Begin, formerly an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland, passed away in 1977 at the age of 75.
The diocese's website currently lists 65 priests, deacons, and vowed religious as "credibly accused" individuals. This includes 21 priests from the Oakland Diocese, 36 priests and deacons from other dioceses or religious orders, and eight religious brothers who resided in the diocese. The recent lawsuits also involve more than 30 members of the clergy not listed, as well as some lay church employees, such as teachers, coaches, and a few nuns.
Bishop Barber assured the faithful that the bankruptcy filing will not impact the diocese's Catholic schools, employees, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, or Catholic cemeteries. He stated that the decision to file for bankruptcy was made to best support survivors of sexual abuse and to ensure the continuity of the diocese's services.
The bishop further clarified that contributions to the Bishop's Ministries Appeal, which supports various diocesan initiatives, will be solely utilized for their intended purposes and not for settling claims.
Bishop Barber acknowledged that the bankruptcy filing will directly affect the diocese's Mission Alignment Process, which aims to reevaluate and implement changes that align with the evolving needs of the diocese. He called for the commitment and collaboration of the faithful and pastors during this process of addressing the outcome of the bankruptcy and making necessary adjustments to parish structures.
He acknowledged that some worship sites will need to close, and the diocese will need to reimagine the utilization of other locations. However, Bishop Barber assured that the diocese will strive to provide a faith community where sacraments can be celebrated, the faith can be passed on to children, and acts of mercy can be offered to those in need.
Bishop Barber requested prayers for the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and emphasized the importance of living as true witnesses of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ within the Diocese of Oakland.
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