Oakland Diocese Files for Bankruptcy Following Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Bishop Barber said in his letter that the bankruptcy filing will not affect the diocese’s Catholic schools, employees, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, or Catholic cemeteries.

Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California
Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California (photo: Skier Dude|Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Diocese of Oakland, in California, has filed for bankruptcy protection, Bishop Michael Barber announced May 8. 

The filing comes less than a month following Bishop Barber’s announcement that the diocese was strongly considering the legal maneuver due to hundreds of expected child sexual abuse lawsuits brought after the statute of limitations expired at the end of a three-year legal window.

In 2019, the state of California passed legislation that granted a three-year exemption to the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits. The legal window began Jan. 1, 2020, and ended Jan. 2, 2023.

In a letter to the people of his diocese, Bishop Barber said there are more than 330 child sexual abuse claims, with the majority alleging assaults occurring between 1960 and 1989.

The diocese’s website said that three of the accusations claim the abuse occurred within the last two decades. Almost all the allegations pertain to incidents occurring before 2003, the website said.

The late Bishop Floyd Begin, who became the first bishop of the Diocese of Oakland in 1962, is among the accused, NBC Bay Area reported in February. A December 2022 lawsuit accuses him of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl once in 1968. Begin, a former auxiliary bishop of Cleveland, died in 1977 at the age of 75.

The Oakland Diocese website lists 65 “credibly accused” priests, deacons, and vowed religious. It lists 21 Oakland Diocese priests, 36 priests and deacons from other dioceses or from religious orders, and eight religious brothers who lived in the diocese.

The recent lawsuits contain accusations against more than 30 members of the clergy who are not on the list, according to NBC Bay Area News. Some alleged abusers in the lawsuits are lay church employees, including teachers and coaches, and a handful of nuns.

Bishop Barber said in his letter that the bankruptcy filing will not affect the diocese’s Catholic schools, employees, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, or Catholic cemeteries. 

The filing was made because it was “the best way” to support survivors of sexual abuse, and ensure the diocese continues its services, he said. 

The bishop also reassured the faithful of the diocese that financial contributions to the Bishop’s Ministries Appeal, which supports many of the diocese’s initiatives in parishes, will only be used to support its stated ministries, not for settling claims.

Bishop Barber said that the bankruptcy filing will “have a direct impact” on the diocese’s Mission Alignment Process, which is meant to re-evaluate and implement changes that will help “align our diocese for missionary fruition and lead in this age of change.” 

“I ask for your commitment to work with me and our pastors in the upcoming months as we determine how best to address the outcome of the bankruptcy process and how to ‘right size’ our parishes to serve the faithful and all who come to us seeking Christ’s tender love,” Bishop Barber said.

The bishop added that some “worship sites” would have to close, and the diocese will have to “re-imagine” how to use other locations.

“All will be impacted by these changes; yet I promise all will be able to be part of a faith community where we can celebrate the sacraments, pass on the faith to our children, and offer works of mercy to those individuals in need,” Bishop Barber said.

“We will all be challenged to put aside our personal preferences and work together for the good of the whole community and the future of our beloved Church,” he added.

“Please join me, too, in praying for the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their continued healing. My prayer is that all us Catholics in the Diocese of Oakland live our lives as true witnesses of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” he concluded.

His full letter, along with a list of frequently asked questions, is available here.