Clergy Sex Abuse Suits Could Bankrupt San Diego Diocese

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego says it may declare bankruptcy in the coming months as it faces “staggering” legal costs in dealing with some 400 lawsuits alleging priests and others sexually abused children

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego said Friday it may declare bankruptcy in the coming months as it faces “staggering” legal costs in dealing with some 400 lawsuits alleging priests and others sexually abused children.

In a letter that was expected to be shared with parishioners this weekend, Bishop Robert McElroy said the cases were filed after California lifted a statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse claims.

In his letter, the bishop said none of the suits involve allegations against any currently serving priest.

“This reflects the reality that the Church has taken enormous steps to root out the sexual abuse of minors in its life and to promote the protection of minors,” McElroy wrote.

Even so, the diocese is facing “staggering” legal costs and most of its assets were used to settle previous allegations with a $198 million payout in 2007, McElroy wrote.

“Even with insurance, the diocese will not be able to pay out similar sums now,” the letter said. “This challenge is compounded by the fact that a bill has now been introduced into the Legislature that seeks to eliminate the statute of limitations entirely, leaving the diocese vulnerable to potential lawsuits forever.”

Bankruptcy would “provide a pathway” for the diocese to compensate sexual abuse victims while continuing to run its ministries, the bishop said.

The diocese has more than 100 active priests and covers San Diego and Imperial counties, an area of more than 8,800 square miles (about 22,800 square kilometers) with a Catholic population of nearly 1.4 million, according to its website.

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