San Francisco archdiocese
File photo: Members of SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) hold up signs during a demonstration in front of the archdiocese headquarters in San Francisco. San Francisco's Roman Catholic archdiocese filed for bankruptcy Monday, saying the filing is necessary to manage more than 500 lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by church officials. Image Credit: AP

San Francisco: The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco filed for bankruptcy on Monday, saying a Chapter 11 reorganization will facilitate a settlement of about 500 lawsuits accusing the church of enabling childhood sexual abuse by priests.

The filing in US bankruptcy court in San Francisco will put the lawsuits on hold and buy time for settlement talks, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement.

"We believe the bankruptcy process is the best way to provide a compassionate and equitable solution for survivors of abuse while ensuring that we continue the vital ministries to the faithful and to the communities that rely on our services and charity," Cordileone said.

The "overwhelming majority" of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, involving priests who are deceased or no longer in ministry, Cordileone said.

The Archdiocese said in its bankruptcy petition that it has between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities.

The current wave of lawsuits came after California passed a 2019 law allowing people to bring claims for childhood sexual abuse that otherwise would have been barred due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

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The dioceses of Oakland and Santa Barbara this year also filed for bankruptcy, each citing the impact of hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits.

The Catholic Church has been roiled in the US and abroad by revelations of widespread sexual abuse that occurred for decades. Several US states have passed laws allowing victims to file new lawsuits based on older sexual abuse claims, leading to a wave of Catholic Diocese bankruptcies in states like New York and California.

The Archdiocese serves 442,000 Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

Jason Amala, a lawyer who represents sexual abuse survivors in lawsuits against dioceses around the U.S., including about 20 in San Francisco, said he hopes the Archdiocese will quickly move toward a fair settlement rather than lingering in bankruptcy for years.

A successful bankruptcy will depend on the Archdiocese being transparent with its finances and resolving disputes with insurers, who have generally been slow to negotiate in other Catholic bankruptcies around the country, Amala said.

Previous Catholic bankruptcies have led to large settlements for abuse claims, such as a $121.5 million 2022 settlement in the bankruptcy of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, and a $210 million 2018 settlement in the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

Many of the dioceses that filed for Chapter 11 after recent changes in state law remain in bankruptcy without finalized settlements.