Oakland Diocese faces 330 sex abuse lawsuits; ponders bankruptcy

The Diocese of Oakland announced this week it is considering filing for bankruptcy due to hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed, alleging clergy members sexually abused children.

In a letter posted on the diocese website, Bishop Michael Barber said that 330 lawsuits have been filed against the diocese from 2020 to 2022.

A new California law gave victims of sexual abuse a three-year window to file claims that had previously expired due to the statute of limitations. 

He says he believes bankruptcy would allow the diocese to reorganize its financial affairs, while providing a way to support survivors.

"After much prayer and thoughtful advice, I believe bankruptcy can provide a way to support all survivors in their journey toward healing in an equitable and comprehensive way," wrote Barber, in his letter released Thursday afternoon to the diocese, which has parishes in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties. "It will also allow the diocese to reorganize our financial affairs so we may continue to fulfill the sacred mission entrusted to us by Christ and the Church."

Barber's announcement drew swift criticism from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. 

"It’s a tactic to dissuade, stall or beat down victims and other dioceses have tried that," Joey Piscitelli, a Contra Costa resident and the survivors network’s Northern California leader, told the Bay Area News Group. "If they were truly sorry for what they did, they wouldn’t pull tactics like this."

"They would be more honest and forthcoming and they would actually take care of the victims who led a life of pain after being molested," he added.

If the Oakland Diocese does file for bankruptcy, it would join the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese as the second in the Bay Area to file for bankruptcy over sexual abuse claims in the past week.
Dioceses in Stockton and San Diego also have sought bankruptcy protection after agreeing to millions of dollars in settlements for priest misconduct.

 In all, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid more than $2 billion to settle sex assault claims across the nation.