Bishop of Santa Rosa Diocese says ‘perfect justice’ not possible in clergy abuse cases, urges harmony, forgiveness

The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese’s decision to file for bankruptcy, Bishop Robert F. Vasa said, is a “necessity” so the bankruptcy court can determine some form of justice for the people who have filed clergy abuse lawsuits.|

“Perfect justice” is not possible “in this world,” Bishop Robert F. Vasa told parishioners Sunday, in the wake of the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese’s announcement last week that it will seek bankruptcy protection in anticipation of hundreds of new and potential clergy abuse lawsuits.

“We recognize in this penitential season that perfect justice is still elusive — that we are not capable of achieving it in this lifetime,” he said during a sermon at the Cathedral of St. Eugene in Santa Rosa.

His message was livestreamed across the diocese, which oversees 40 parishes from Petaluma to the Oregon border.

Filing for bankruptcy, Vasa said, is a “necessity” so that the bankruptcy court can determine some form of justice for the people who have filed lawsuits. The Santa Rosa Diocese does not have the resources to “justly compensate” all those who have alleged abuse, he added.

“We can’t undo the wrong. We can’t undo the harm. And, we cannot afford to offer that which perhaps strict justice would demand,” he said. “We are incapable of it.”

The Santa Rosa Diocese has already paid about $33 million in settlements related to the clergy abuse scandal that began in the early 1990s in the North Coast.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse in California have been given until the end of 2022 to file civil suits related to their experiences.

The diocese is facing more than 130 new claims of sexual abuse — with dozens more expected to be filed before the Dec. 31 deadline — dating back as far as 1962, with many of them from the 1970s and 1980s, according to a statement Vasa issued Friday to The Press Democrat.

Filing for bankruptcy, according to the bishop’s statement, would freeze these cases as the diocese works under the supervision of the court to “evaluate and compensate, as fairly as possible those who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.”

During Sunday’s Mass, Vasa’s homily focused on Isaiah 11:1-10, Biblical scriptures that discuss harmony and justice.

He urged the more than 100 people in attendance, as well as those watching via livestream, to pray for the courage to forgive the injustices they face.

“It is only in that kind of thought process, that kind of spirit, that we can ever hope to come to the kind of harmony that we hear about in the Old Testament,” he said.

Following the service, Vasa told The Press Democrat he feels terrible for those who have suffered and experienced sexual abuse. He said he wants them to “feel whole and healed.”

“We are engaged in this and will do what we can,” he added.

You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at madison.smalstig@pressdemocrat.com. Her Twitter is madi.smals.

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