Across the globe, Roman Catholic Church parishioners and clergy have stepped forward with allegations of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy. The disturbing allegations, many involving child victims, have provoked a long-overdue reckoning inside and outside of the Catholic faith community. In California, some survivors have taken the brave step of holding their abusers and the church accountable through civil legal action.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, California, was named by BishopAccountability.org as one of the many those where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once ministered to parishioners. The Diocese of Fresno contains the parishes in:
- Fresno County
- Inyo County
- Kern County
- Kings County
- Madera County
- Mariposa County
- Merced County
- Tulare County
If you or a loved one suffered abuse by a Diocese of Fresno clergy member and you have questions about obtaining justice and accountability through the California courts, contact the compassionate, skilled sexual abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
Clergy Abuse and Legal Accountability
Through legal actions filed nationwide against clergy and church entities, survivors of clergy sexual abuse have shown the power of the courts to hold sexual abusers and those who protect them accountable. In many cases, allegations have emerged that the church not only knew about sexual misconduct by clergy members, but that it took steps in response that enabled further abuse.
In California, survivors of sexual abuse can seek damages and other legal remedies from their abusers and others—like the Diocese of Fresno—whose actions intentionally or negligently facilitated the abuse. The time limits for filing these sorts of lawsuits differ based on whether the survivor was a child or an adult when the abuse occurred. If a bill now pending in the California Assembly becomes law, those time frames could expand, making it easier for survivors to come forward and seek accountability through the legal process.
Damages and Other Remedies Potentially Available for Clergy Abuse
A civil action alleging clergy sexual abuse can help to address the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual pain suffered by abuse victims. Of course, money does not heal those wounds directly, but it can help survivors gain much-needed support. In addition, California law provides for punitive damages to be awarded in certain cases. In a legal action alleging clergy abuse, these damages can serve the function of punishing church entities for turning a blind eye to abuse, and of deterring that abuse in the future.
Similarly, California law also permits plaintiffs to ask the court for injunctive relief, which typically takes the form of a court order directing a party to take affirmative actions to make sure misconduct does not recur.
When cases of clergy abuse have similar characteristics, survivors may have the option of joining together to speak with one voice through group litigation. Like an individual action, group litigation can seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
There is, of course, never any guarantee that a legal claim against an individual clergy member or a church entity alleging clergy abuse will succeed. Nevertheless, numerous lawsuits in California and elsewhere have demonstrated it is possible for survivors to recover substantial monetary and other relief through these actions.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
The California Code of Civil Procedure dictates two distinct time limits on filing a lawsuit for clergy sexual abuse. A provision passed in September 2018 sets the time limits for filing a claim alleging abuse that occurred when the victim was an adult at the later of:
- 10 years from the date of the last act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault; or
- Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that an injury or illness resulted from an act, attempted act, or assault with the intent to commit an act, of sexual assault.
When It’s Possible to File a Claim for Clergy Abuse (old statute)
A different time limit exists for claims relating to childhood sexual abuse. A lawsuit alleging child clergy abuse must be filed by the later of:
- Eight years from the date the plaintiff turns 18; or
- Three years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after turning 18 was caused by the sexual abuse.
The timeframes above for childhood clergy abuse claims relate only to claims directly against a perpetrator. As the law currently stands in California, a claim against someone who intentionally or negligently enabled or failed to prevent clergy sexual abuse, such as a church entity or leader, must be filed before the plaintiff reaches age 26. This, however, could soon change.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
How a New Law Could Expand Those Time Limits
A bill pending in the California Assembly as of April 2019, could lead to a significant expansion of the time limits for filing childhood clergy abuse claims. That would, in turn, give many more survivors of clergy abuse the ability to seek justice and accountability in California courts.
Assembly Bill 218 proposes an extension of the time to file a claim against someone who negligently or intentionally enabled childhood clergy abuse to the plaintiff’s 40th birthday. Perhaps even more significantly, the bill calls for a three-year look back window for reviving claims of childhood clergy sexual abuse that have otherwise expired under current California law, and for plaintiffs to seek treble damages against anyone who covered up that abuse. The attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, are keeping a close eye on the progress of this bill in the Assembly.
Our Attorneys Seek Accountability for Clergy Abuse
It takes strength and bravery for a survivor to step forward with an allegation of clergy abuse. The compassionate, skilled clergy abuse attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, want to help any survivor who has an interest in pursuing legal action in California courts.
There is no obligation in speaking with one of our attorneys. We offer a free, confidential consultation. Call us at (800) 652-6137 or visit us online to learn more.
AB 218 is a new law that gives victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to seek justice through the courts. The new law also extends the statute of limitations. This is important for victims because many times, they will not disclose any details of the abuse they endured, and now have the option to speak out. WBS’s John Winer wrote an article for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “While some survivors may stay silent for years, that doesn’t mean the sexual abuse was okay or didn’t matter. It takes an unspeakable amount of courage to speak out and expose wrongdoing.”