When a Catholic entity runs to federal court seeking bankruptcy protection, its head often posts a ‘FAQ’ (frequently asked questions) or a ‘Q & A’ section on its website, putting the church hierarchy’s spin on the decision. Usually, these postings are dreadfully disingenuous and dishonest. The Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s latest posting is perhaps the worst. It’s hard to know where to begin.
• The archbishop claims that a new California law “allow(s) cases to be filed against the archdiocese through 2022.” That is not true. The new law allows child sex abuse and cover-up cases to be filed against ALL employers in the state. He’s trying to suggest that Catholic entities are being unfairly singled out. He’s wrong.
• The archbishop claims that in other dioceses, the Chapter 11 process has taken “between one and three years.” Cordileone conveniently neglects to mention that the Milwaukee archdiocesan bankruptcy took nearly five years, having been filed in January 2011 and finalized in November 2015.
• The archbishop asks, “Is bankruptcy a way to keep these more than 500 lawsuits out of the spotlight and secret?” and answers, “Absolutely not.”
• Cordileone claims, “Chapter 11 is a very transparent process with information available to anyone.” The bankruptcy process is, in a very narrow and typical way, ‘transparent.’ Every legal filing is posted on a court website that the public can see. But those court filings are just like Cordileone himself: they’re ‘transparent’ about only things most people are not interested in. Most people want to know who the predators are and were, where they were and are now, who turned a blind eye to their crimes or – even worse – actively helped the abusers keep abusing by stonewalling police, tricking victims, intimidating parents, stiff-arming prosecutors, shredding documents, inventing alibis and making up excuses like, “Father is taking a leave to deal with several health issues” or “Monsignor has been struggling with some personal matters and has taken a brief respite from pastoral work at this time.” This is what civil lawsuits would discover and disclose. This is what victims want, and Catholics deserve. This is what bankruptcy will keep “out of the spotlight.”
• The archbishop claims that “the great majority of these sins were committed many decades ago. . .” First, these are, of course, crimes rather than sins. And since Chapter 11 is a legal process and since more than 500 individuals have filed child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits against his archdiocese, Cordileone should be honest and call this horror what it is: horrific crimes that cause devastating harm to innumerable boys and girls for decades and made even worse because of the countless San Francisco Archdiocesan employees, volunteers and members who ignored, concealed or enabled them. Consider the phrase “many decades ago.” Here again, the archbishop deceives. Most of the crimes were committed a FEW decades ago – two, three, or four decades ago – not MANY decades ago. Again, Cordileone and his public relations professionals work hard to minimize the scandal and distance themselves from it.
• The archbishop claims that Catholic entities that have been granted Chapter 11 protection “have been able to emerge and continue their ministries and support their communities successfully.” True? Probably. Honest? No. Why? Because he deliberately ignores what ELSE these church entities have achieved through this legal maneuver and, at the same time, ignores their motivation for the legal maneuver itself. The motivation: to avoid having to be questioned under oath and disclose how much they knew about and how little they’ve done about the widespread epidemic. Their achievement: keeping the lid on crimes, corruption, and complicity that would shock parishioners and the public that civil litigation would reveal if it could continue.
Make no mistake about it. This is what Catholic bankruptcies are all about. How do we know? Just look at when these Chapter 11 filings happen. Almost without exception, the church hierarchy, when faced with the possibility of depositions, discovery, trials, and juries, races to federal court crying, “Stop the lawsuits!” It’s the same reason that only a few dozen civil abuse and cover-up lawsuits have ever gone on to reach a jury: because bishops, vicars general, cardinals, chancellors, and other high-ranking prelates know that if they’re deposed – or worse, questioned in open court under oath – they are ruined.
Finally, Cordileone manages to be more than deceptive in his FAQ posting. He’s callous as well. Check out this paragraph by the archbishop in his letter to his flock. Cordeleione urges northern California Catholics to “join together on a daily basis in praying the rosary, spending an hour each week in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and fasting on Fridays for the survivors of abuse, for the mission of our Archdiocese, and for the eradication of this shameful crime from our society as a whole. God is pleased by such prayer and penance, and doing so will open our hearts to the blessings He wishes to lavish upon us.”
Look carefully at what Cordileone is saying and not saying. He’s not saying parishioners should pray that kids will be kept safer. He’s not saying parishioners should pray that still-suffering victims will find healing. He’s not saying parishioners should pray that their church officials will be forgiven for their actions and inactions that exacerbate this crisis. He’s not saying parishioners should pray that society as a whole should work harder to safeguard the innocent and vulnerable while pursuing and punishing the guilty and complicit. What the archbishop IS saying is that the faithful should pray so that it will “open” their “hearts to the blessings God wishes to lavish upon us.”
So even now, facing more than 500 deeply wounded but very courageous victims of terrible childhood betrayal whose suffering has been compounded by Cordileone, his staff, and his predecessors, church-goers should pray so they themselves will benefit and receive “the blessings God wishes” to “lavish” on them.
In conclusion, it should surprise no one that the head of one of the largest archdioceses in the US refuses to name predator priests and also refuses to be honest with his flock about the self-serving legal dodge he’s embarked on to save his career, his secrets, his assets, and his reputation.
You can find a more comprehensive list of some of the San Francisco Archdiocesan child molesting priests, nuns, seminarians, monks, and brothers here on our San Francisco page and BishopAccountability.org.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.