By: Patrick Wall, Advocacy Consultant in G&E’s Child Victims Act and Clergy Litigation Practice

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno (Fresno Diocese) announces imminent bankruptcy filing after 154 clergy abuse claims were filed against it. Many of these decades-old claims were revived under the California Assembly Bill 218, which opened a window of time for survivors to file suit against their abusers.

The Fresno Diocese announced its plan to file for bankruptcy after survivors filed more than 150 clergy sexual abuse claims against it. Fresno Diocese Bishop Joseph V. Brennan claimed the bankruptcy filing is the only way to fairly resolve the “surge” of clergy abuse the diocese anticipates. The diocese plans to file for bankruptcy in August 2024.

While none of the 154 claims involve priests currently serving in the Fresno Diocese, Bishop Brennan said those responsible “must commit to a lifetime of atonement.”

California Assembly Bill 218, which went into effect January 1, 2020, opened a three-year window for sexual abuse survivors to file claims against their abusers—including against the institutions involved in covering up the abuse. Survivors are able to revive their claims during this timeframe even if the statute of limitations had expired.

Bankruptcy is a mixed bag for survivors. Filing for bankruptcy is often a legal tactic to protect the fallen entity by limiting the Church’s liability and shielding its assets from survivors. But it may also give survivors a chance to speak out publicly about what happened to them—as with the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy proceedings.

Unsettlingly, this isn’t the first time that a California diocese has filed for bankruptcy due to hundreds of alleged abuse claims.  The first California Catholic Diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court was San Diego in 2007, followed by Stockton in 2014.  In 2023 Santa Rosa, Oakland, and San Francisco filed.  Now in the first six months of 2024 Sacramento, the Franciscan Friars of California, and Fresno have filed or declared their intention to file.

Last Chance for Survivors of Fresno Diocese Sexual Abuse to Make a Claim

While there have been several other windows in the past 20 years for Fresno Diocese abuse survivors to come forward with their claims, this is the last chance for survivors to make a claim before their claims are barred forever. Fresno Diocese’s bankruptcy closes all potential for any future window to make a claim, or any other legal remedy. That is why bankruptcy is so effective for institutional defendants.

We understand it is a courageous yet painful process to relive these memories, and you may be hesitant to take that first step forward in sharing your story. Take solace that we practice trauma-informed advocacy to meet you where you are in your healing journey, and provide the support and safety you deserve.

Your Involvement in a Case Against Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is Completely Confidential

Many survivors feel compelled to stay silent for fear that the abuse they suffered will be publicly revealed. Importantly, the claims process in bankruptcy is 100% confidential and the survivor’s identity is publicly revealed only if the survivor decides to reveal their identity. We are committed to fighting to protect survivors’ privacy.

Survivors deserve justice and accountability, no matter how long it has been since they were abused. While many survivors of childhood sexual abuse may never seek legal justice, knowing your rights can be a powerful step in the healing process. Contact us if you have questions about your experience and what legal options you may have. Your communications with our team are entirely confidential. We are here for you.

You Are Not Alone. Discuss Your Potential Clergy Sexual Abuse Claim With Our Attorneys

At G&E, we are committed to helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Our goal is to hold negligent organizations and offenders—such as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno—accountable. Schedule a free consultation with an experienced and compassionate attorney at our firm. We take cases nationwide, and are here for you when you are ready.