OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Diocese of Oakland is considering filing for bankruptcy due claims of child sex abuse by priests, the church announced in a letter on Thursday.
According to the letter addressed to parishioners and friends, the diocese is facing approximately 330 lawsuits.
"As the court continues to process the lawsuits, the total magnitude will become clearer," Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, the Bishop of Oakland, said in the letter. "However, it is increasingly evident we face a monumental challenge. I have therefore been working with our College of Consultors, our Diocesan Finance Council, and our staff and advisors to discern the best way to support compassionate and equitable compensation for survivors and ensure the continuation of vibrant, Christ-centered parishes to serve our faithful.
Most Rev. Michael C. Barber says the diocese is considering filling for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which will provide "a way to support all survivors in their journey toward healing in an equitable and comprehensive way." He continues, "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."
The trials set for this May regarding the child sex abuse lawsuits against the Oakland Diocese could be put on hold.
"If the Diocese of Oakland files for bankruptcy, all of the trials against them will immediately be frozen. That's one of the really important powers that the bankruptcy court has that the diocese will probably value," Mike Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, explained. He has been representing survivors of childhood sexual assault for the past 20 years
"I think it is highly likely that the Diocese of Oakland has been preparing for this move for some time," Reck said.
Victim advocates say this a blueprint other Catholic dioceses across the country have followed when hit with similar lawsuits. The Diocese of Santa Rosa declared bankruptcy this past week as well. Some see it as an attempt to reduce payouts and transparency.
"It is not shocking to see a diocese, like the Diocese of Oakland, want to avoid those trials. They would like to avoid the bishops and the vickers having to testify and having to disclose to the public the details of what they knew and when they knew it," Reck said.
The Oakland Diocese did not return request for comment for this story. But on its website, it claims that it has limited cash and financial resources to deal with all the complaints, even if they sell off assets.
Regardless, Reck adds it's important to understand that even if the Oakland Diocese declares bankruptcy it won't stop the lawsuits from going forward.
"And in some ways, how contentious that is, and whether that is a process that helps heal the survivors or whether it is a process that hurts them more, is yet to be known and we will just have to see how the bishop wants to play this," Reck said.
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