The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced this week that it may file for bankruptcy in order to pay settlements for victims of alleged sexual abuse.
In a Thursday letter to parishioners, Cardinal Robert McElroy wrote that the Diocese "must face the staggering legal costs" in response to lawsuits alleging abuse dating back as far as 1945.
The Diocese says it has received more than 400 claims alleging the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, though none of them claim abuse by any priest who is currently part of the ministry.
In 2007, it settled 144 claims for $198 million and said in a statement that settling cases now at the same rate would cost more than $550 million, "which is why bankruptcy is under consideration."
McElroy's letter states, "Bankruptcy would provide a pathway for ensuring that the assets of the diocese will be used equitably to compensate all victims of sexual abuse, while continuing the ministries of the Church for faith formation, pastoral life and outreach to the poor and the marginalized."
John Manly, an attorney whose law firm has represented alleged sex abuse victims in San Diego and elsewhere, argued the church should not be allowed to pursue bankruptcy.
"The Diocese of San Diego has a well-documented history of lying about its financial assets in order to dodge liability for their knowing concealment of child molesting priests. We intend to contest any attempt to file bankruptcy," Manly said. "The Diocese is a healthy, wealthy institution. The Bankruptcy Courts should be a refuge for organizations who have encountered financial difficulties It was not intended and should not be used by institutions who have engaged in the systematic criminal conduct. The mafia is not allowed to file bankruptcy, and neither should the Catholic Hierarchy when they have knowingly allowed the rape of boys and girls by priests like the Diocese of San Diego."