Widespread allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by Catholic Church clergy (and also by the clergy of other faiths) continue to reverberate around the world. Courageous survivors of clergy abuse have stepped forward to tell harrowing stories of sexual abuse by priests and other clergy members. Some of the most difficult-to-hear allegations describe how church leadership enabled or turned a blind eye to repeated clerical abuse of children.
BishopAccountability.org has named the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, California, as one of many locations where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once served. The Diocese of Sacramento covers parishes in:
- Amador County
- Butte County
- Colusa County
- El Dorado County
- Glenn County
- Lassen County
- Modoc County
- Nevada County
- Placer County
- Plumas County
- Sacramento County
- Shasta County
- Sierra County
- Siskiyou County
- Solano County
- Sutter County
- Tehama County
- Trinity County
- Yolo County
- Yuba County
In California, one option survivors of clergy abuse have for holding their alleged abusers and the church accountable is through civil legal action seeking monetary damages and other relief. Contact the empathetic, knowledgeable clergy abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, to learn more. We offer a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
Civil Legal Action: A Tool to Combat Clergy Abuse
In recent years, survivors have fought back against clergy abuse. They have participated in criminal prosecutions of alleged abusers, organized and advocated in public forums, created support groups, and worked for change within the church. These brave efforts have begun to bring accountability.
Another powerful tool for combating clergy abuse is the civil legal process. In lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions across the country, survivors of clergy sexual abuse have sought to hold their alleged abusers, and the church leaders who allowed abuse to continue, accountable for their misconduct.
In California, the statute of limitations permits survivors of sexual abuse to sue their abusers and others who enabled abuse, for monetary damages and other legal relief. Time limits for filing these lawsuits in California courts vary depending on how old the survivor was when the abuse happened. A bill now pending in the California Assembly may significantly expand those time limits, and may also give many survivors a renewed chance to file claims that have otherwise expired under existing law.
How Damages and Other Remedies Combat Clergy Abuse
Clergy abuse leaves deep wounds. One purpose of pursuing a civil lawsuit for clergy abuse is to recover money damages that may help those scars heal. However, that is not the only way a civil action can combat clergy abuse. California law also provides for punitive damages in certain cases. Those damages seek to punish abusers and those who enabled them, as well as to impose high costs that help deter future abuse. In the same vein, civil actions in California can also seek injunctive relief, which typically takes the form of a court order directing the defendant to take steps to make sure the harm the plaintiff suffered never happens again.
A clergy abuse claim may even take the form of a group litigation, a particularly powerful form of lawsuit in which a group of survivors joins together to speak to the court with one voice about the abuse they suffered. Like individual actions, group litigation typically seeks compensatory, punitive, and injunctive remedies against the defendants.
We can never guarantee that any lawsuit will end favorably. However, as we have seen in other cases around the nation, many survivors of clergy abuse who pursue civil actions have recovered significant monetary damages and obtained other relief to help combat clergy abuse.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
Civil claims alleging sexual abuse by a clergy member are subject to the following statutes of limitation.
Claims alleging abuse of an adult victim 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.
Clergy Abuse Claims Are Subject to Time Limits in California (old statute)
Claims alleging abuse of a child victim (anyone younger than 18) must be filed 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 above statute of limitations applies to claims against the alleged perpetrator of abuse. A claim against anyone who enabled or failed to prevent childhood sexual abuse, such as what has been alleged against church leaders and entitles (like the Diocese of Sacramento) in some recent cases, must be filed by the time the plaintiff turns 26.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
Assembly Bill 218 Proposes Extending Time Limits for Childhood Abuse Cases
A bill currently pending in the California Assembly could expand the timeframes for seeking damages from anyone who enabled abuse. Assembly Bill 218 proposes allowing lawsuits against anyone whose conduct was the legal cause of childhood sexual abuse up until the victim turns 40. AB 218 would also create a three-year window for child abuse survivors to revive and pursue claims that otherwise have expired under existing law. Finally, the bill would hold anyone who covered up child sexual abuse liable for triple the compensation, a potentially powerful tool to use against church leadership and entities.
In other words, if passed by the Assembly and signed into law by the governor, AB 218 could make it possible for many more Californians to pursue a civil action for clergy abuse.
Attorneys for Survivors of Clergy Abuse
Clergy abuse survivors display immense strength and courage in coming forward to tell their stories. At Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, our caring, dedicated attorneys want to help those survivors who are ready to hold abusers and enablers accountable in court.
Speaking with our lawyers about a clergy abuse allegation is free and confidential. It does not create any obligation to move forward. Our aim is only to help survivors obtain the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about their legal options. Call Winer, Burritt & Tillis, 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. WBT’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.”