Fresno’s Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy as new sexual abuse claims soar

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announced this week that it will be filing for bankruptcy this summer as the number of sexual abuse allegations it faces rises beyond 150.

Fresno diocese leader Bishop Joseph V. Brennan said in a statement that the Central Valley church will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August.

The diocese did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment.

The move allows the diocese “to address those claims honestly, compassionately and equitably,” according to Brennan’s statement.

Brennan said the move was necessary since the diocese has been flooded with claims — 154 that it is aware of — in the three years since Assembly Bill 218 was enacted in January 2020. The deadline to file a claim closed Dec. 31, 2022, under the legislation.

AB 218 opened a three-year window for some civil sexual assault claims that previously timed out due to the statute of limitations.

“The reopening of the window has made every diocese in California susceptible to more claims,” Brennan said. “What we are facing 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.”

Sacramento’s diocese filed for bankruptcy in April. San Francisco’s archdiocese filed for bankruptcy last summer.

San Francisco said it had more than 500 new claims due to AB 218, while Sacramento put the number at 250 lawsuits.

In each case, each church opted to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows for a court-supervised reorganization. This will ensure that all victims will be compensated and church funds won’t be depleted by whoever files and finishes fastest, according to Brennan.

Bankruptcy, however, did not sit well with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

Bankruptcy is not the only way to achieve “fair recoveries” in lawsuits against the diocese, the organization said in a statement. It added that the process turns victims into “creditors” and leaves those abused before the filing date and unaware of the proceedings “forever barred” from suing for damages.

SNAP said Brennan and the diocese were the ultimate beneficiaries of the plan.

“For those who suffered, or are suffering now, from child sex crimes committed in his diocese, there is no upside to this cruel and, in our opinion, unjustified legal tactic,” SNAP said in a statement. “SNAP believes that children, not secrets and assets, are what need to be protected. This legal tactic, to us, shows that the Diocese of Fresno is indeed bankrupt, morally bankrupt.”

Fresno’s diocese includes over 1 million Catholics among 87 parishes and 21 schools from Fresno, Kern, Kings, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa, Merced and Tulare counties.

The diocese released a list of clergy accused in 2021 including 64 ordained as early as 1906. Though most were local, some clergy hailed from Guatemala, France, Ireland, Mexico and the Philippines.

The diocese did not clarify if the new claims came from previously accused priests and brothers or from those newly accused.

Brennan said in his letter that none of Fresno’s Catholic schools would be affected by the bankruptcy.

Fresno native Jason Bettini, 49, said he was relieved when he received a letter earlier in the week from his youngest child’s school — Our Lady of Perpetual Help in adjacent Clovis — confirming that news.

In 2021, Bettini founded the Central Valley chapter of the Troops of Saint George, a Catholic nonprofit that offers fraternity for priests, men and young men, according to its description.

Bettini’s version is a Catholic counter to the Boy Scouts, which has also been racked with sexual abuse allegations.

The Troops of Saint George mandates that fathers are actively involved with their sons on adventures, including camping and fishing. In less than three years, the group has grown from 18 boys to 50.

He said the news left him with mixed emotions.

“The diocese needs to protect themselves against this litigation,” said Bettini, a longtime parishioner of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fresno. “But, the true victims also need to be compensated for pain and suffering, no matter how many years it’s been.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.