Imagine this scenario: A judge says to a Bishop,
” No, Bishop, I am denying your request for federal bankruptcy protection,” said the judge. “Our nation’s bankruptcy laws were set up for businesses and groups that are hit, often through no fault of their own or because of a few bad decisions, with hard financial times. You, however,” the judge continued, “may be facing hard financial times, but it’s impossible to really know because Catholic officials remain very secretive about their income and expenses.” “But even if you’re temporarily in a tough spot, that’s because you, church officials who preceded you and some who still work with you now, made the irresponsible choices, day after day after day for decades. When needing to pick between protecting yourselves, your reputations, your careers, and your coffers and protecting your innocent flock, the officials in charge of your diocese consistently and selfishly opted for their own best interests, not the interests of the faithful those officials claimed to serve.”
“So as long as judges like me let men like you evade justice, safeguard predators, continue cover-ups, and never have to suffer real consequences for your selfish wrongdoing, the Catholic hierarchy will keep enabling these devastating crimes and cover-ups without end.” “That’s why today I’m drawing a line in the sand and saying NO MORE.”
This is a fantasy, as it has never happened. It may never happen. But it feels good to imagine that someday, someone will stop Catholic bishops from blocking lawsuits, stopping discovery, and sealing secrets. Until that day, however, we must all deal with the reality that about 30 US Catholic dioceses and religious orders, including the Diocese of Santa Rosa, have formally sought and received bankruptcy protection, thwarting civil lawsuits.
The Diocese of Santa Rosa’s October 20, 2023 Deadline
There are only 11 days left until the October 20th deadline. That’s when anyone who was raped, molested, or sexually violated in any way by any current or former Santa Rosa Catholic employee must file a short ‘claim form’ to qualify for compensation. This is because the diocese is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy right now. That compensation will give no one his or her childhood back or erase the years of struggle any man or woman has endured after childhood sexual trauma.
If you were victimized in the Santa Rosa Diocese, you may be wondering, “If it’s bankrupt, does that mean I’m left out in the cold? The answer is No. You still have a chance, FOR JUST THE NEXT FEW DAYS, to seek – and very likely get – compensation through the federal bankruptcy court. Until Oct. 20, you can file a fairly simple form, and again, you’re very apt to get a financial settlement. But rather than rush into this uninformed or partially informed, we at Horowitz Law encourage you to check with an experienced attorney first.
If, besides personal, well-deserved compensation, you want to protect others, expose corruption, and push for real child sexual abuse reforms, you also have other options:
- You can call law enforcement. We at Horowitz Law almost always urge abuse victims to do this. Even if it’s too late to prosecute, the more police and prosecutors hear and learn from survivors, the better able they’ll be to detect, investigate, charge, and convict child molesters in the future.
- Contact a journalist. The same applies here: Even if they don’t do a story, the more reporters and editors hear and learn from survivors, the more inclined they will probably be to cover this issue in the future and cover it thoroughly, accurately, and sensitively.
- Join an advocacy or support group. Many worthy, effective organizations are fighting to fix archaic and arbitrary predator-friendly laws, expose those who commit and conceal abuse, and ensure that other kids won’t have to endure the deep and lasting scars caused by child sexual abuse.
But back to bankruptcy for a minute. Here’s another way to think of a church Chapter 11 filing, like the one Santa Rosa has done. Think of it as a ‘deal’ or ‘bargain.’ It’s a deal that, in this case, an entity that has engaged in dreadful, hurtful, deceitful conduct – for years and years – claims, “We might have to shut our doors.” In response, the court says, “We’ll make sure you won’t go out of business or have to dissolve. But in turn, the court – not you -will figure out how much you will have to pay to those you owe money to.” And make no mistake about it:
- if something inappropriate happened to you, even once, no matter how long ago, you are owed money. If, even once, when you were young, a Catholic employee in the Santa Rosa diocese touched you inappropriately, the diocese owes you money.
- If, even once, when you were young, a Catholic employee in the Santa Rosa diocese showed you pornography, the diocese owes you money.
- If, even once, when you were young, a Catholic employee in the Santa Rosa diocese kissed or groped or in any sexual way made you uncomfortable, the diocese owes you money.
Why money? Because they can’t give you back what they stole from you: your childhood, innocence, and trust. Because money is a substitute – a poor one, but usually better than nothing – for true justice. Notice we said ’employee.’ Not cleric. Not priest, nun, monk, seminarian, or bishop. (And yes, at least one former Santa Rosa Bishop, George Patrick Ziemann, has been credibly accused of abusing at least one adult and several kids. He also worked in Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona.)
Months ago, we wrote about the three most notorious predator priests in Santa Rosa: Fr. Donald Wren Kimball, Fr. Gary Timmons, and Fr. Francisco Xavier Ochoa. But there are dozens of other child molesting clerics who are or were in the diocese, some of whom are named here. Finally, if you’re pondering, “Should I look into filing a report and getting compensation, or should I just let this rest?” Keep in mind that the Diocese of Santa Rosa has roughly 167,000 Catholics who support 42 parishes, 15 schools, and 54 priests. Its bishops have included Leo Maher, Mark Hurley, John Steinbock, George Ziemann, Daniel F. Walsh, and Robert F. Vasa. There are eight Catholic elementary schools in the diocese: St. Francis Solano School in Sonoma, St. John the Baptist School in Healdsburg, St. Mary of the Angels School in Ukiah, St. Vincent de Paul School in Petaluma, San Jose Sanchez Del Rio School in Fort Bragg, St. Apollinaris School in Napa, and St. Eugene’s Cathedral School and St. Rose School, both in Santa Rosa.
There are also six Catholic high schools in the diocese: Archbishop Hanna in Sonoma, St. Bernard’s in Eureka, St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma, Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa, and Justin-Siena and Kolbe Academy/Trinity Prep, both in Napa. That means that dozens of Santa Rosa staffers, ordained and not ordained, still have frequent access to hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Santa Rosa area children. We hope the fact that hundreds of boys and girls are still around dozens of Santa Rosa priests will prod you to at least look into – quickly – filing a claim so you get what you deserve, some compensation, and they get what they deserve, greater safety. If you were sexually abused as a child by any clergy (priest, nun, bishop, monk, seminarian, brother, or lay employee) within the Diocese of Santa Rosa, including Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties, your time to act is running out.
Why? Because the diocese declared bankruptcy, or more formally, it has sought federal Chapter 11 protection. Without getting too complicated, this does NOT mean the diocese is broke. It does, however, mean that if you or someone you know was sexually violated in any way at any time by any person in the diocese, you have until October 20, 2023, to file a claim and perhaps get some compensation. But most victims who seek such compensation are, when the dust settles, glad that they did. Besides providing tangible help, money can also provide a sense of validation, closure, and satisfaction from facing one’s demons and holding one’s perpetrator accountable. So, if you were hurt in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, no matter by whom or no matter how long ago it was, we at Horowitz Law encourage you to explore the ‘claim form’ process.
Here are some (not all) names of those publicly and/or credibly accused child molesting clerics in the Diocese of Santa Rosa: