Allegations of sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic Church clergy against parishioners have reverberated around the globe. Courageous survivors of clergy abuse have stepped forward with disturbing allegations of clergy sexual misconduct against children in particular. These allegations have triggered a long-overdue reckoning inside and beyond the Catholic community. One way survivors have sought to hold the church accountable is through legal action in California courts.
BishopAccountability.org has named the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California, as home to parishes where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once served. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles encompasses parishes in:
- Los Angeles County
- Santa Barbara
- Ventura County
Survivors who think they may want to seek justice and accountability for clergy sexual abuse through the courts often have many questions about their options for moving forward. The compassionate, skilled sexual abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, want to help answer those questions. Contact us today schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with a member of our team.
Justice and Accountability for Clergy Abuse
There is no single or correct way to seek justice and accountability for clergy abuse. Some survivors choose to tell their painful stories to family and friends. Others organize and advocate for change. Some remain in and work to improve the faith community. Others leave the faith altogether.
One powerful way to achieve the goals of justice and accountability is by taking legal action against clerical sexual abusers and those who enabled them. In civil actions across the nation, survivors have alleged not just horrific abuse by individual clergy members, but also a willful church policy of protecting accused priests at the expense of victims. These suits have documented cases in which the church repeatedly placed alleged abusers into positions where they could continue to perpetrate their crimes.
California law gives survivors of sexual abuse the power to sue their abusers and those whose negligence or intentional actions facilitated or failed to prevent that abuse. Varying time limits apply to these legal actions depending on the plaintiff’s age at the time of the abuse. A bill pending in the California Assembly proposes to extend those limits and could substantially increase the number of survivors who have the right to take legal action.
Damages and Other Legal Remedies for California Clergy Sexual Abuse
Clergy sexual abuse causes lasting physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual harm. By taking legal action in California courts, survivors have the opportunity to recover compensation for their injuries and, just as importantly for many of them, to help prevent those same clergy from ever abusing children again. For example, California law allows courts to award punitive damages as a way to punish abusers and those who enabled them. The law also provides for injunctive relief through which courts can order defendants to take affirmative steps to prevent future sexual misconduct.
Lawsuits do not come with guarantees, of course. Some of them succeed. Others do not. Still, recent experience has shown that when survivors are able to prove their allegations, courts and juries are willing to award them substantial compensation and to order remedial measures that could make a lasting difference in changing the culture of abuse.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
California law sets distinct time limits for filing suit alleging clergy sexual abuse. Claims alleging abuse that happened when the victim was an adult must be filed no later than:
- 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.
New Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (new law effective January 1, 2020)
In October of 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 218 into law which gives survivors of clergy abuse greater opportunities to seek justice and hold predator clergy members accountable for their actions. The law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020, extends the age limit from 26 to 40 for a survivor of sexual abuse in their childhood to bring an action against those responsible. So now, if someone was sexually molested or assaulted by a clergy member, he or she has until their 40th birthday to make a claim or within five years of the time it is discovered they suffered damages as a result of the assault (whichever comes later).
AB 218 also allows a three-year window in which claims that may have expired due to the old statute of limitations can be revived. In a case where childhood sex abuse by clergy was covered up, the new law allows a court to award recovery of up to treble damages from the defendant who engaged in the cover-up.
California’s Time Limits for Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuits (old statute)
In contrast, claims alleging childhood sexual abuse must be brought no later than:
- 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 time limits for childhood sexual abuse apply only to claims against the actual alleged perpetrator. For now, a claim against a person or entity who, through negligence or intentionally harmful actions, enabled or failed to prevent childhood sexual abuse—such as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, must be filed no later than when a plaintiff turns 26.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
A Proposed Change to California Law on Childhood Clergy Sexual Abuse Claims
Assembly Bill 218, currently pending in the California Assembly, would expand those time frames by giving survivors until their 40th birthdays to file claims against the people or entities that enabled or failed to prevent childhood sexual abuse. Even more significantly for many California clergy abuse survivors, the proposed law would also revive legal claims for clergy abuse that have expired under existing law, and would allow them to seek treble damages from anyone who covered up childhood clergy sexual abuse.
These amendments to the current statutes, if the Assembly passes them and Gov. Gavin Newsom signs them into law, would increase the number of Californian survivors of childhood clergy sexual abuse who have the right to file a legal action for damages and other forms of legal relief. The attorneys at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, are keeping a close eye on the bill’s progress.
Consult an Experienced Clergy Sexual Abuse Attorney
Survivors who come forward with allegations of clergy abuse demonstrate enormous bravery and fortitude. At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, our compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys have the resources and experience to advise survivors of clergy abuse about their legal options for seeking justice and accountability in California courts and support them through that process.
Speaking with a skilled lawyer about a clergy abuse allegation is free and 100 percent confidential. There is no obligation to move forward and we will never pressure you to do so. Our aim is only to help survivors obtain the information they need to make the choice that’s right for them. Call Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, 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.”