SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Santa Rosa announced that the diocese expects to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it faces more than 130 new claims of sex abuse dating from 1962 to the present, with “a vast majority of the cases” dating to the 1970s and 1980s.
The diocesan attorneys are expected to file Chapter 11 after Dec. 31 and before March 1, he said in a statement.
“After months of careful and prayerful consideration” and consultation with the priests of the diocese, the Diocesan Finance Council and professionals retained by the diocese,” Bishop Vasa said, “it has become clear to me that it is necessary” for the diocese to take this action.
“This decision was made necessary due to the overwhelming number of sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the diocese after the statute of limitations was lifted for a three-year ‘window,'” he said.
In 2019, state legislators passed the California Child Victims Act. It took effect Jan. 1, 2020, opening a three-year “look back window” to allow survivors of sexual abuse or assault to bring both civil and criminal lawsuits at any age and no matter when the abuse happened, even if it happened decades ago. The window ended Dec. 31.
According to the website of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America in Washington, 11 dioceses are currently in the bankruptcy process and 16 have emerged from bankruptcy, including the California dioceses of Stockton and San Diego. The project’s website is https://catholicproject.catholic.edu/bankruptcy-information.
Filing for Chapter 11 will freeze the new claims of abuse the Santa Rosa Diocese is facing.
Bishop Vasa said he is convinced “that choosing this path will allow us to achieve two very important goals.”
“First, it will provide a process to carefully evaluate and compensate, as fairly as possible, those who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse,” he said.
Chapter 11 “is a process designed to bring all parties together in one place to resolve difficult claims fairly and finally, with the supervision of the bankruptcy court,” he explained.
Second, the process “will provide a way for the diocese to continue the various charitable ministries in which it is engaged,” the bishop said.
“The parishes and Catholic schools within our diocese are separate civil corporations or separate ecclesial entities and should not be parties to this filing,” Bishop Vasa explained.
The diocese has 41 parishes and 22 missions. There are five diocesan high schools and 10 elementary schools.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat daily newspaper, the Santa Rosa Diocese has already paid about $33 million in settlements related to the clergy abuse scandal.