Over the past decade, a wave of allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has spurred a painful and public reckoning within and outside the church. Brave survivors of clergy abuse have spoken out, many of them recounting allegations of abuse that occurred while they were children. Their efforts have called attention to the need to hold the church accountable for sexual misconduct. To that end, some survivors have filed civil lawsuits seeking accountability from their abusers and those who enabled them in California courts.
The website BishopAccountability.org has named the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey, California, as one of those where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once ministered to parishioners. The Diocese of Monterey encompasses parishes located in:
- Monterey County
- San Benito County
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Cruz County
Survivors often have questions about seeking accountability for clergy abuse through legal action. The sympathetic, experienced clergy abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, want to help answer them. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
Holding the Church Accountable Through Legal Action
Clergy sexual abuse is a crime. Although only a fraction of clergy abuse cases were prosecuted criminally, many survivors of clergy sexual have sought accountability through the civil legal process. In lawsuits filed in jurisdictions across the country, plaintiffs have recovered compensation and other relief from their individual abusers. Some suits have also alleged that church institutions enabled the abuse by not removing clergy accused of sexual misconduct, but reassigning them to other parishes, where they continued to abuse more children.
In California, sexual abusers and anyone who enabled or failed to prevent abuse face civil liability for damages and other forms of court-ordered relief. Time limits for filing those lawsuits vary according to the age of the victim at the time the abuse. A proposed law currently pending in the California Assembly could expand those time limits in cases of childhood sexual abuse.
Seeking Damages and Other Relief for Clergy Abuse
We understand that money alone cannot repair all of the damage inflicted by clergy abuse. However, the compensation potentially available as damages through a civil legal action may help survivors find needed support. In addition, a civil action may result in an award of punitive damages against abusers and those who enabled them, with the purpose of punishing those wrongdoers and deterring future misconduct. A court might also enter injunctive relief in a civil suit alleging clergy abuse, directing church entities to take action to prevent clergy abuse.
Claims for clergy abuse can take the form of individual legal actions or, in some cases, group litigation in which groups of similarly situated survivors join together in a lawsuit. Both types of action can seek the remedies described above.
There are no guarantees when it comes to civil litigation. In many cases around the country, however, clergy abuse lawsuits have resulted in significant monetary settlements and verdicts, and have contributed to preventing future clergy abuse.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
The age of the plaintiff at the time clergy sexual abuse occurred determines the time limits for filing a clergy abuse claim in California courts. If the plaintiff was 18 or older when the alleged abuse happened, then a plaintiff must file a lawsuit 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.
Filing a Timely Clergy Abuse Claim (old statute)
If the plaintiff was younger than 18 when the alleged abuse occurred, then a claim 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.
As the law currently stands, the time limit described above for filing a lawsuit alleging childhood clergy abuse applies to claims against an individual clerical abuser. A plaintiff must file a suit alleging that a person or entity—such as a church leader or institution, like the Diocese of Monterey—enabled or failed to prevent abuse before turning 26.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
Keeping Track of Assembly Bill 218
At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, we are keeping a close eye on Assembly Bill 218, which is currently pending in the California Assembly. The bill proposes to lengthen the period in which survivors of childhood clergy sexual abuse can file suit. If the bill passes into law, it will undoubtedly increase the number of Californians who have the right to take legal action against the church for childhood clergy abuse.
AB 218 proposes extending to age 40 the time survivors have to sue church entities that enabled or turned blind eyes to childhood clergy abuse. The bill also proposes reviving, for a period of three years, clergy abuse claims that have otherwise expired under current law. Finally, the bill seeks to hold anyone who covered up clergy sexual abuse of a child liable for treble damages, which could increase three-fold the amount of money a plaintiff could recover.
Speaking With a California Clergy Abuse Attorney
It takes tremendous strength and bravery to reveal a claim of clergy abuse. At Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, our compassionate, dedicated team of attorneys is here to help survivors of clergy abuse when they’re ready to explore seeking accountability from the church in the California courts.
To discuss your legal options for pursuing a lawsuit for clergy abuse, Winer, Burritt and Scott, LLP, offers a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with one of our attorneys. Contact 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.”