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Diocese of Santa Rosa files for bankruptcy after nearly 200 sex abuse lawsuits

PIX Now -- Friday afternoon headlines from the KPIX newsroom
PIX Now -- Friday afternoon headlines from the KPIX newsroom 09:01

SANTA ROSA - The Diocese under the Roman Catholic Bishop of Santa Rosa will be filing for bankruptcy Monday due to the large number of lawsuits filed against it from people who allege they were sexually abused, Bishop Robert Vasa said Friday.

The lawsuits came in the wake of a three-year window declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom beginning in 2020 and ending on Dec. 31, 2022 that overruled the normal statute of limitations and opened the floodgates for litigation.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Newsom's move allowed for suits to be brought that have gone back up to 75 years. 

For the Santa Rosa Diocese, the number of suits could be as many as 200, with 115 dating back more than 30 years.

"These cases are too numerous to settle individually and so they have accumulated until the closing of the three-year window," Vasa said Friday in his statement. "Now that the window is closed, we have received notice of at least 160 claims and we have information that perhaps more than 200 claims have been filed in total against the Diocese."

Vasa said that in 2003, the Diocese faced similar cases, though in much fewer numbers. The church sold property and borrowed money to pay around $12 million to alleged victims then, with $19 million paid out from insurance. Since then, the Diocese has paid an additional $4 million, he said.

"With excess property depleted, with insurance for many of the years either non-existent or exhausted, it is impossible to see any way forward without recourse to the bankruptcy protections our Country makes available," he said.

Currently, 11 dioceses across the country have entered into bankruptcy proceedings for the same reasons and over two dozen have in the past decade.

"We are deeply saddened that so many have endured abuse in the past and that the scourge of child sexual abuse is a part of diocesan history," said Vasa. "Through this process we hope to provide for those who have come forward and who are yet to come forward at least some compensation for the harms they have endured."

Vasa provided a question-and-answer document addressing some people's concerns. To the question, "How did this situation happen?" the bishop was candid.

"Sadly, we have had priests, religious, and lay persons commit evil and immoral acts against the youth which were of a sexual nature," he wrote. "We know that those who have been harmed in these ways may never be fully healed. No one can undo what was done to them."

In total, Catholic dioceses across the country have paid out $4 billion in claims from people who alleged abuse since the 1980s.  

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