San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone Claims that Clergy Sex Abuse is “Mostly Over.”

by | Oct 4, 2023 | Catholic Church, Firm News

Salvatore Cordileone Horowitz Law

Recently, on this blog, we pointed out a few of the disingenuous and self-serving claims made by San Francisco’s archbishop regarding his filing for Chapter 11 protection. We barely scratched the surface. Before we dive back in, here’s a teaser: If you’re wondering why San Francisco’s archbishop Salvatore Cordileone seems to be among the most insensitive prelates when it comes to abuse, be sure to read to the end of this blog, we have a theory about him and his career below.

Cordileone’s “Frequently Asked Questions” about his archdiocesan bankruptcy addresses a key question: “Why are there so many claims against the archdiocese now?” Maybe a better way to put it: he MIS-ADDRESSES the question.

For starters, note his use of the word ‘claims.’ It’s the most pejorative way to describe the more than 500 cases of men and women who, as kids, were assaulted by archdiocesan staffers, both ordained and non-ordained. For the sake of accuracy, let us point out the obvious: There AREN’T ‘so many claims against the archdiocese now.’ There are many CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND COVER-UP cases now. It says a lot about a purported leader when he or she refuses even to use the phrase ‘abuse’ or the phrase ‘child sex crimes.’

As one might expect, Cordileone blames secular outsiders, not church insiders, for the archdiocese’s plight. It’s state lawmakers, he says, making no mention of the hundreds of predatory clergy and complicit church colleagues who actually committed and concealed these countless crimes. To be precise, the archbishop writes, “California, for a second time, removed the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims . . .This resulted in more than 500 civil lawsuits being filed against the Archdiocese.”

Could Cordileone possibly spin this in a more cold and abstract way? It’s merely a tweak in the law, he suggests, not decades of criminality overseen by him and his predecessors, that brings this deluge of litigation. If you asked most people this simple question, “Why are hundreds of individuals filing abuse suits against the San Francisco archdiocese?” – they would give the simple and obvious reply, “Because so many priests so severely hurt so many children over so many decades. . .AND because “top church officials let this horror happen.”

In a technical sense, Cordileone is right: abuse lawsuits in California, like in two dozen other states, are happening now because lawmakers have heard the cries of their constituents and reformed their statutes, enabling those who’ve suffered for years to legally pursue their perpetrators. But it should go without saying that had northern California Catholic clergymen, apparently like Catholic clergymen everywhere, behaved like true shepherds instead of wolves in sheep’s clothing, none of this litigation would be happening.

Speaking of spin, in his answer to this simple question – why so many lawsuits? – the archbishop tosses out one of the most misleading and hurtful canards the Catholic hierarchy relentlessly repeats. He writes, “It’s important to know that the overwhelming majority of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1960s and 70s, and into the 80s. . .” It’s just bad priests, he implies, that cause all the problems. By omission, he’s saying there’s nothing wrong about the system and culture of the church itself that contributes. Nor is there anything wrong with the actions and inactions of the non-offending employees and members who saw, suspected, ignored, hid, or enabled these heinous crimes. Just the bad priests.

Imagine for a minute that hundreds or thousands of good, law-abiding San Francisco area citizens are robbed at gunpoint and beaten up over decades by hundreds of ruthless criminals in a tightly organized ring led by several powerful Mafia figures. And imagine if, when finally exposed, the Mafia figures acknowledge only the hundreds who grabbed wallets and punched victims, steadfastly staying silent about their own role in causing so much trauma. Would that kind of blatant blame-shifting fly? Of course not. Yet that’s exactly what Cordileone and so many of his peers in other Catholic entities try to pull off. Adding insult to injury, the archbishop further claims the crisis “involved priests who are deceased or no longer in ministry.” Cordileone offers no numbers whatsoever to buttress this claim. Exactly how many of his child-molesting clerics are in the grave? Of course, he doesn’t say. But even if every one of them has passed, this is essentially irrelevant.

Let’s go back to our robbery, violence, and Mafia analogy. Let’s give the Mafia the benefit of the doubt and imagine that every single gang member who hit and stole from an individual is now deceased. How many of us would be satisfied if the kingpin at the top of the criminal enterprise said, “Well, my foot soldiers are all gone now.” Since centuries ago, when the first two lawbreakers joined forces, there have always been and will always be criminals who are willing to band together to hurt others. So, as long as there’s greed and opportunity, there will always be criminals and would-be criminals who are willing to join up with a powerful, prestigious, wealthy, experienced, and resourceful Mafia honcho. Finally, here’s the theory about Archbishop Cordileone and his handling of abuse and cover-up. Consider his somewhat unusual and worrisome career path. He’s been a cleric for 41 years. But just three of those years were in parish ministry. For the bulk of his career, he’s essentially been a bureaucrat.

Most clergy will tell you that it’s in parish ministry that they deal with a wide range of people facing a wide range of problems. It’s where many of the ordained experience their greatest periods of growth, developing empathy and understanding, listening to and advising everyday lay people struggling with a diverse set of complex issues. In healthy denominations, those who make episcopal appointments highly value parish work and sometimes insist that before being promoted, a minister or priest devote many years to ‘toiling in the trenches’ before being considered for an ‘office’ or ‘desk’ job.’ Cordileone studied in Rome for six years, a rarified environment in which Catholic clergy enjoy exalted status. For four years, his academic focus was largely on the church’s internal ‘canon law.’

When Cordileone returned to California (he’s a San Diego native), he became secretary to a bishop. A year later, he was named a judicial vicar and assigned to a parish. Then, it was back to the literal and figurative center of the Catholic power structure, Rome, when, for seven years, he worked at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest canonical court. In 2002, he was back in the US, was ordained a bishop, and soon was promoted to head the Oakland Diocese and, three years later, the San Francisco Archdiocese.

As an archbishop, Cordileone enjoys wide latitude (as all the men in the church hierarchy do) when it comes to how and where he spends his time and energy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he chooses to affiliate himself with notably ‘bureaucratic’ groups. For example, Cordileone is a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catechism, and the USCCB Eucharistic Revival Bishops’ Advisory Group. He’s also on the boards of the Catholic Insurance Company, a theological institute, and the Catholic Healthcare Leaders Association and is the “Prior of the American Delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George.”

Again, there’s, of course, nothing wrong with these organizations or these positions. But we at Horowitz Law think it’s telling that rather than work primarily to help desperate and struggling individuals like refugees, immigrants, prisoners, the poor, the homeless, and the marginalized, Cordileone uses his education and skills to work mostly on procedural, administrative, and internal church matters. In our view, this may be one reason why – when it comes to vulnerable kids and wounded victims – Cordileone even now continues his self-serving, reckless, secretive, and callous ways.

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.