The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) worries the Diocese filing for bankruptcy means survivors will get much lower settlement payments.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday in federal court. That’s in the wake of more than 250 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests and other church leaders in recent decades, stretching back to the 1950s.

ABC10 spoke with an abuse survivor and asked the Diocese what Monday’s bankruptcy filing means for the church.

Dorothy Small has reminders of faith decorating her Woodland living room.

“This Easter was so intensely personal,” she told ABC10. “I love the beauty of the celebration, the beauty of the mass.”

It has taken years, but Small now feels comfortable returning to the Catholic Church — albeit, a different church community than the one where she experienced abuse.

“Then came that priest, and I sensed that something wasn’t right,” she said, recalling when a new priest came to lead the church she was attending about a decade ago.

Small was an adult when her abuse happened. She says a priest groomed, manipulated and sexually abused her spanning from 2014 to 2016.

She eventually sued the Diocese of Sacramento and won a $200,000 settlement, keeping $120,000 after attorney fees.

“There is no dollar amount that is going to make up for the loss,” she said, of the trauma she went through in the wake of the abuse.

Small is now the Sacramento Area Volunteer Leader with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. It’s a group that advocates for survivors and works to hold abusers in the Catholic church accountable.

In 2019, California lawmakers passed a bill that lifted the statute of limitations for three years on child sexual abuse lawsuits. By the end of 2022, when that three-year window closed, survivors had filed more than 250 claims against the Diocese of Sacramento.

In a statement, Bishop Jaime Soto said, “It is the sickening sin of sexual abuse – and the failure of church leadership to address it appropriately – that brought us to this place. I must atone for these sins.”

He announced in December the Diocese planned on filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and on Monday, it did.

Bishop Soto said, “There are many victim-survivors who have long suffered from the reprehensible sins committed against them. This reorganization process will allow me to respond to them as equitably as possible.”

SNAP disagrees, Small said.

“SNAP believes that there is another option,” she said, adding that the organization worries the Diocese declaring bankruptcy means survivors won’t get as much money.

“For years, (survivors) have lived with the pain. It also has jeopardized economic security and ability to earn income. There’s mental, spiritual and physical consequences of childhood sexual abuse and assault, which is turbo-charged when it happens in a spiritual, religious institution,” Small said.

ABC10 asked the Diocese for an interview Monday. A spokesperson said the bishop wasn’t available and pointed us to a statement on the Diocese website instead.

It says the bankruptcy process could take two to three years.

As far as Catholic schools, the Diocese of Sacramento says parishes and high schools are distinct financial and legal entities from the Diocese itself and will likely not be affected, though it all depends on how the federal judge eventually rules.

Diocese of Sacramento filing for bankruptcy, face 250 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse

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