An Especially Sad Catholic Bankruptcy

by | Jan 15, 2024 | Catholic Church

Franciscan Friars of Santa Barbara Horowitz Law

Amidst dozens of lawsuits regarding clergy sex abuse and cover-up, the Franciscan Friars Province of Santa Barbara has filed for Chapter 11 protection in federal court. This brings a melancholy tone to an order named after one of the most beloved figures in Christianity – St. Francis of Assisi, the humble icon of poverty and innocence. Often described as one of the most revered figures in Christianity, he reportedly “inspired to lead a Christian life of poverty as a beggar.” Commonly, he is portrayed wearing a brown habit with a rope tied around his waist, featuring three knots that symbolize the three Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Unfortunately, approximately 200 of his spiritual descendants, the Franciscans, have been publicly accused of harming innocents in direct contrast to their namesake.

The Background

The wave of allegations against the Franciscans is part of a larger scandal unraveling in the Catholic Church. The first Catholic institution to seek Chapter 11 protection due to sex abuse lawsuits was the Portland Oregon Archdiocese in 2004, with around 60 cases. Fast forward to 2022, and the situation now is that the Franciscan Friars Province of Santa Barbara, based in Oakland, is facing a similar predicament.

There are several branches or ‘provinces’ of Franciscans in the U.S., and not all of these have been implicated in these cases. However, the prevailing fact is that the reputation of this holy order has been significantly tarnished.

Questionable Claims from the Franciscans

Three critical aspects regarding the Franciscans’ response necessitate clarification:

  1. Transparency: They claim to be more transparent about clergy sexual abuse cases than other orders and that they were among the first to publish a disclosure list of credibly accused friars. However, the hard truth is that the first such list in the U.S. was published in 2002, whereas the Franciscans published theirs only in 2019. This claim of being ‘among the first’ is, therefore, false.
  2. Victim Interaction: The Franciscans say they are making their superiors available to meet with the victims and their families to tender an apology. Although this seems noble on the surface, it’s the least a church entity should do when confronted with such atrocities. Forgive us if we’re not impressed.
  3. Elder Care Facilities: Franciscan officials mention that a number of their accused clerics are living in “elder care” facilities in Missouri, California, Arizona, and New Mexico under “strict third-party supervision.” However, based on historical actions, Catholic officials usually reposition clergies implicated in misconduct into Catholic-led institutions, casting doubts on the validity of both their “third-party supervision” and its “strict” nature.

Shedding Light into the Darkness

The Franciscans have stated that their six living accused clerics, who have been removed from all public ministry, are living under ‘strict supervision.’ This claim, however, raises eyebrows, keeping in mind that one cannot observe another individual constantly, approximating the reason behind the existence of prisons. Abusers are notoriously shrewd and manipulative and almost always chafe at and scheme to evade ‘strict supervision. Take, for example, a Catholic’ retirement center’ for priests where at least some of the residents are proven, admitted, or credibly accused of child molesting clerics.

Then-Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said, “We have a staff there headed up by Sister Geraldine, and she is very strict – their comings and goings, everything is monitored. She is right on top of things.”

Yet Sister Geraldine told a journalist that she “does NOT monitor the priests if they go to a movie or for a walk,” adding, “I don’t police them like that. I would trust them all. I would.”

It’s worth mentioning where this center is. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “About 200 yards north of the dormitory, across an expanse of lawn, are the backyards of families living on Chapelford Lane and Robin Meadow Court. Just south of Regina Cleri is (a church) that leases space to the Berry Patch Childcare Center (which) serves about 50 children Monday through Friday. Across the street is the Webster Childcare Center. It’s also worth mentioning that daycare parents and neighbors of the center say they “were never notified that some priests with credible allegations of abuse against them lived nearby.

Physically isolating the predatory clerics, while logically justifiable, doesn’t guarantee strict supervision. This is more so when the said supervision may not be as ‘strict’ as claimed, given the inherently sneaky nature and manipulative prowess of abusers, coupled with the described shortcomings of supervisors, who, at times, have expressed unqualified trust in the accused.

Moreover, the placement of these clerics in so-called ‘elder care’ facilities in populated, residential areas, often near educational and childcare institutes, only amplifies the danger and fear.

The Sad and Simple Takeaway

Ultimately, it is downright disheartening to witness an institution as significant to Catholics as the Franciscans slip into the quagmire of clergy abuse scandals. This occurrence underscores the critical need for Catholic institutions, irrespective of their popularity, to be held accountable for their actions in the past and the risks they continue to pose now.

Despite these painful revelations, it is essential to remember that being honest about these wrongdoings is the first step towards healing and progress. As a society, we must commit to uncovering the truth, acting upon it, and protecting the vulnerable, upholding the very principles St. Francis embodied.

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 a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, 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.