Parishioners saddened, dismayed as Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announces upcoming bankruptcy 

May 29, 2024 /

For the first time in its history, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August. The reason for the filing is related to the high number of lawsuits filed against the diocese by victims who were sexually abused by clergy. The news caught many of the faithful by surprise. 

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Scotty Bourne as he arrived for midday mass at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield. “But my faith is still strong,” he said 

The Fresno diocese covers most of the Central Valley and takes in Kern County. The Most Rev. Joseph Brennan, bishop of the Diocese of Fresno made the announcement by writing an open letter on the diocese website. The diocese said the first few court cases or settlements would likely wipe out its finances. 

“Filing for Chapter 11 will allow us to address the substantial number of claims brought forth by victims collectively, and it will allow us to address those claims honestly, compassionately, and equitably,” wrote Bishop Brennan in the open letter dated May 28, 2024. 

Kern Sol News reached out to the Fresno Diocese to find out how many of the 154 lawsuits filed against it are from victims in Kern County, but the Diocese has not responded. Other parishioners at St. Francis Church said they were not surprised as much by the bankruptcy announcement as the timing to make it public. 

“I don’t know what took them so long to make it public, we knew this was coming,” said a parishioner who gave his first name as David. “We pray the victims get justice and leave it up in God’s hands,” said his wife Edith. The couple did not want to provide their last name. 

Parishioners at mass at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield

The decision to file for bankruptcy came under fire by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. The organization advocates for victims abused by clergy and others in a position of power. SNAP issued a press release saying, “Bankruptcy is not the only way to achieve fair recoveries in all of the lawsuits against the Diocese. In the last window, universal agreements were reached between the Church and survivors and their attorneys, without the draconian consequences that bankruptcy will bring along with it.” 

What happens now? 

Kern Sol News also reached out to local Catholic schools and parishes for comment on the decision by the Fresno Diocese to file for bankruptcy. Noel Leon, principal at Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield referred all calls to the Diocese of Fresno. Other parishes also referred all inquiries to the Fresno Diocese. It’s unclear for now what impact, if any, a bankruptcy action may have on Catholic schools and parishes.

“I’m confused about all this,” said José Iglesia. “I’m afraid this might force churches to shut down,” said Iglesia, an immigrant from El Salvador and a lifelong Catholic. Others said filing for bankruptcy does not shake their faith or the leadership of Bishop Joseph Brennan. 

“I trust his judgment, he is a good man,” said Bourne. 

Statue of St. Michael the Archangel greets the faithful at St. Francis Church

The diocese maintains a public database of priests or clergy members who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse on its website. It lists 64 clergy on the list, of which 25 of those served at one time in Kern County since 1907. The diocese also maintains a page of frequently asked questions. One of the questions posed is, “How did the Diocese get in this situation?” The response is the following, “We are in this situation because of grievous sins committed by individual clergy and a small number of the laity in the Diocese. It is these evil acts that brought us to this place–not the survivors of sexual abuse seeking justice,” 

To read the full letter from Bishop Joseph Brennan go here.

The Most Rev. Joseph Brennan, bishop of the Diocese of Fresno announced diocese will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August. Photo from Diocese of Fresno.

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Jose Gaspar

José Gaspar is a veteran journalist and former news anchor/reporter with Telemundo, Bakersfield. Prior, he worked 28 years at KBAK-TV as a reporter. Email him at