Diocese of Fresno to file for bankruptcy amid sex abuse claims, bishop says

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The Diocese of Fresno, California, will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid more than 150 child abuse claims filed against it, Bishop Joseph Brennan said this week. 

The diocese “​​will file a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court in 2024,” Brennan said in a Tuesday announcement on the diocesan website

“I expect to file that petition in August,” the prelate said. 

Brennan said the bankruptcy filing comes after plaintiffs lodged 154 sex abuse complaints against the diocese. Those filings were made under a California law that temporarily relaxed the statute of limitations on sex abuse claims, allowing alleged victims a three-year window from 2019 to 2022 to file the complaints.

“The reopening of the window has made every diocese in California susceptible to more claims,” Brennan wrote. 

He said the extended window “gives us the opportunity to redouble our efforts in creating a safe environment for everyone in and out of the Church and address real issues in atoning for the sin of clergy abuse against children.”

The Chapter 11 filing “will allow us to address the substantial number of claims brought forth by victims collectively, and it will allow us to address those claims honestly, compassionately, and equitably,” the bishop wrote. 

The bankruptcy will ensure that “all victims are compensated fairly and funds are not depleted by the first few cases addressed,” Brennan said. It will also allow diocesan schools, parishes, and other organizations to continue operating. 

The diocese “will pay for the claims from funds that are available to be used for such purposes,” the diocese said on its website. There is also “some insurance to cover abuse that occurred in past decades.” 

Fresno joins several other California dioceses in filing for bankruptcy over sex abuse claims. The Dioceses of SacramentoSanta Rosa, Oakland, and Stockton have all filed for bankruptcy in recent years. The Archdiocese of San Francisco also filed for bankruptcy last year.

All told, more than two dozen U.S. dioceses have filed for bankruptcy to address sex abuse claims in recent years. Many have already completed those proceedings and have exited Chapter 11. 

Brennan on Tuesday told the diocese that his heart “truly breaks” when he hears “how many lives were affected by clergy sexual abuse.” 

“I imagine many of you are dismayed by the news of our serious financial situation, but I ask you to let go of your distress and turn your hearts towards the victims of abuse,” he said. 

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