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Catholic Church Bankruptcies

Survivors of child sexual abuse are filing new lawsuits against Roman Catholic dioceses across the country. This wave of litigation has left many dioceses facing financial hardships. Thus, bankruptcy in the Catholic Church is becoming more common. Currently, 27 Catholic dioceses and three religious orders have filed for bankruptcy since 2004.

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Catholic Dioceses That Have Filed For Bankruptcy Protection

The following table lists the 27 Catholic dioceses in the United States and its territories that have filed for bankruptcy due to child sexual abuse claims. Thus far, 15 of these dioceses have reached settlement agreements with victims and other claimants. These dioceses have paid nearly $900 million to more than 2,600 victims of sexual abuse through the settlement agreements.

Diocese (State)Date FiledStatusSettlementVictims
Portland Archdiocese (OR)July 6, 2004
Confirmed$74,400,000173
Tucson Diocese (AZ)September 20, 2004Confirmed$22,200,00045
Spokane Diocese (WA)December 6, 2004Confirmed$48,000,000150
Davenport Diocese (IA)October 10, 2006Confirmed$37,000,000162
San Diego Diocese (CA)February 27, 2007Confirmed$198,100,000144
Fairbanks Diocese (AK)March 1, 2008Confirmed$9,800,000290
Wilmington Diocese (DE)October 18, 2009Confirmed$77,400,000148
Milwaukee Archdiocese (WI)January 4, 2011Confirmed$21,000,000350
Gallup Diocese (NM)November 12, 2013Confirmed$22,000,00057
Stockton Diocese (CA)January 15, 2014Confirmed$15,000,00034
Helena Diocese (MT)January 31, 2014Confirmed$21,000,000360
St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese (MN)January 16, 2015
Confirmed$210,000,000450
Duluth Diocese (MN)December 7, 2015Confirmed$40,000,000125
New Ulm Diocese (MN)March 3, 2017Confirmed$34,000,00093
Great Falls-Billings Diocese (MT)March 31, 2017Confirmed$20,000,00086
San Juan Archdiocese (Puerto Rico)August 30, 2018PendingTBDTBD
Winona-Rochester Diocese (MN)November 30, 2018PendingTBDTBD
Santa Fe Archdiocese (NM)November 30, 2019PendingTBDTBD
Agana Archdiocese (Guam)January 16, 2019PendingTBDTBD
Rochester Diocese (NY)September 12, 2019PendingTBDTBD
Harrisburg Diocese (PA)February 19, 2020PendingTBDTBD
Buffalo Diocese (NY)February 28, 2020PendingTBDTBD
New Orleans Archdiocese (LA)May 1, 2020PendingTBDTBD
St. Cloud Diocese (MN)June 15, 2020PendingTBDTBD
Syracuse Diocese (NY)June 19, 2020PendingTBDTBD
Rockville Centre Diocese (NY)October 1, 2020PendingTBDTBD
Camden Diocese (NJ)October 1, 2020PendingTBDTBD

If a case is labeled “pending,” the diocese and its claimants have not reached a settlement agreement.

Archdiocese Bankruptcies

Of the 27 Catholic dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy in the United States and its territories, 7 are archdioceses:

  • Archdiocese of Guam
  • Archdiocese of Milwaukee
  • Archdiocese of New Orleans
  • Archdiocese of Portland
  • Archdiocese of Santa Fe
  • Archdiocese of San Juan
  • Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Catholic Religious Orders That Have Filed For Bankruptcy

The following table lists the three Catholic religious orders that have filed for bankruptcy to settle sexual abuse claims: Oregon Province of the Jesuits, Christian Brothers of Ireland and Crosier Father & Brothers. Combined, these three orders have paid more than $200 million to compensate roughly 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by clergy members.

OrderDate FiledStatusSettlementVictims
Oregon Province of the JesuitsFebruary 17, 2009Confirmed$166,100,000535
Christian Brothers of IrelandApril 28, 2011Confirmed$16,500,000400
Crosier Father & BrothersJune 1, 2017Confirmed$25,500,00043

Prominent Catholic Dioceses That Have Filed For Bankruptcy

The Catholic dioceses listed in the table have filed for bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims. However, each bankruptcy process differs depending on the circumstances of the individual diocese. Two dioceses with unique bankruptcy proceedings include the Duluth and Harrisburg Dioceses.

Duluth Diocese Bankruptcy

In November 2015, a court found the Diocese of Duluth responsible for 60% of an $8.1 million verdict in a priest abuse lawsuit. The following month, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is used to protect businesses that are struggling financially. The process evaluates and reorganizes a business’ assets. In doing so, a business can pay off debts while maintaining enough capital to continue operating.

More than three years after filing for bankruptcy, the diocese announced a $40 million settlement. The settlement compensated 125 sexual abuse survivors.

Additionally, the bankruptcy settlement agreement included two non-monetary provisions:

  • The Duluth Diocese was required to publicize the confidential personnel files of 37 priests credibly accused of abuse.
  • The Duluth Diocese was required to develop new diocesan procedures to prevent future incidents of child sexual abuse.

Harrisburg Diocese Bankruptcy

On February 19, 2020, the Diocese of Harrisburg became the first diocese in the state of Pennsylvania to file for bankruptcy protection.

The diocese announced its decision more than a year after a Pennsylvania grand jury report was published. The 2018 grand jury report detailed decades of horrific child sexual abuse in the Pennsylvania Catholic Church.

Following the release of the report in 2018, the Harrisburg Diocese created the Survivor Compensation Program. The program paid $12.1 million to 106 victims of priest abuse. However, this settlement did not end the stream of lawsuits filed against the diocese.

In order to handle new litigation, the Harrisburg Diocese found it necessary to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy proceedings are currently underway.

What Happens When A Diocese Files For Bankruptcy?

Cases of bankruptcy are handled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

When a Catholic diocese files for bankruptcy, all civil lawsuits against the diocese are suspended, including clergy abuse lawsuits. The diocese’s assets are also partially frozen and reviewed by the bankruptcy court.

Can You Get Compensation From A Bankrupt Diocese?

Yes, in order to get compensation from a Catholic diocese in bankruptcy proceedings, a victim must file a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court. If a victim’s proof of claim is accepted, he or she becomes a claimant in the bankruptcy case.

Federal judges handling the case will review the diocese’s assets. Once the deadline to file claims expires, the court will allocate money to claimants while ensuring the diocese retains enough money to continue operating.

How Catholic Bankruptcies Can Affect Victims Of Priest Abuse

BenefitsDrawbacks

  • Victims avoid filing a civil lawsuit.

  • Victims are still compensated through the bankruptcy process.

  • Victims can avoid the publicity often associated with a civil lawsuit.


  • Victims may receive less money from bankruptcy court than they could have won through a civil lawsuit.

  • Victims may be denied a feeling of justice. Some documents of abuse may never be released to victims seeking answers.

How Catholic Bankruptcies Can Protect Dioceses

By its basic function, bankruptcy financially protects a diocese. The bankruptcy court will help a diocese organize its assets to pay its debts and emerge with enough money to maintain diocesan operations.

However, filing for bankruptcy can provide other benefits to Catholic dioceses, including:

  • Reputation protection – In a civil lawsuit, a court may order a diocese to release sensitive documents that could negatively affect the diocese’s reputation. In some bankruptcy proceedings, a diocese could be protected from this type of negative public exposure.
  • Ability to shield assets – Businesses can transfer assets prior to filing for bankruptcy. By doing so, unless the transfer is contested, a business can protect certain assets from the scrutiny of the bankruptcy court. Historically, some dioceses have transferred assets to parishes or trusts for protection. A recent Bloomberg article found Catholic dioceses in America shielded $2 billion from abuse victims by transferring assets prior to bankruptcy proceedings.

Catholic Church Bankruptcy FAQs

How Is Coronavirus Affecting Catholic Church Bankruptcies?

The ongoing pandemic is affecting Catholic Church bankruptcies in two ways:

  1. More Catholic dioceses may file for bankruptcy under the economic strain of the pandemic.
  2. With less revenue from mass collections, Catholic dioceses in bankruptcy proceedings may be faced with further financial hardships during the restructuring process.

Can You Sue A Bankrupt Diocese?

Yes, you can seek legal action against a bankrupt diocese. However, all legal action will go through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Learn more about filing an abuse claim during bankruptcy proceedings here >

How Many Catholic Dioceses Have Declared Bankruptcy?

27 Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy. See the full list here >

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Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo

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