The Roman Catholic Church and other denominations face continuing allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. Courageous survivors of clergy abuse, many of whom were children when the abuse occurred, have led the way in drawing the public’s attention to the tragedy of sexual misconduct in the church. Some of them have done so by filing lawsuits against their alleged abusers and the church institutions that enabled the abuse.
The website BishopAccountability.org says the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, California, is one place where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once served. The Diocese of San Bernardino encompasses the parishes located in San Bernardino County and Riverside County.
If you have questions about seeking accountability for clergy abuse through legal action in the California courts, then know that our clergy abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, are here to help you answer them. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
Accountability for Clergy Abuse Though Civil Legal Action
Although sexual abuse by clergy is a crime, only a fraction of cases of clergy abuse has been criminally prosecuted. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse, however, can also hold clerical abusers accountable in civil court. Throughout the country, survivors have sought compensation from their abusers and from church institutions through the civil legal process. Many of those cases involved disturbing allegations that church leadership knew about, and failed to stop, clergy abuse of children.
In California, sexual abuse survivors—including those who suffered clergy abuse—have the legal right to sue their abusers, and others whose actions led to the abuse, for monetary damages and other court-ordered relief. The survivor’s age when the abuse occurred dictates the time limits for filing suit. If a bill currently pending in the California Assembly becomes law, however, then those time limits may expand to allow more survivors of childhood clergy abuse to pursue claims.
Civil Legal Remedies for Clergy Abuse
The monetary damages survivors often seek through a civil legal action cannot erase the impact of clergy abuse. But that compensation can help survivors get the help and support they need. A civil action can also seek punitive damages from abusers and church entities, aimed at punishing clergy abuse and deterring it in the future. In addition, survivors may seek an injunction from a court that directs church entities to take proactive measures to prevent future clergy abuse.
Some survivors pursue civil legal action individually. When multiple similarly situated survivors endured the same type of abuse, they may have the right to join together in filing group litigation against abusers and church entities. Although the process of pursuing group litigation differs in some respects from how individual actions work, group litigation typically seeks the same basic remedies as those described above.
Lawyers who represent survivors in civil actions for clergy abuse can never guarantee a favorable outcome. The results of clergy abuse cases nationwide, however, show these claims can result in large settlements or jury verdicts, as well as in court decisions that help to prevent further abuse.
California’s Current Time Limits on Clergy Abuse Claims (old statute)
California law sets different time limits for filing a civil action for clergy sexual abuse, based on whether the plaintiff was over or under 18 when the abuse occurred.
If the plaintiff was under 18 when the clergy sexual abuse happened, the time limit is 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.
Clergy Abuse Statute of Limitations For Adult Abuse in California (proposed new statute probably effective January 1, 2020)
If the plaintiff was 18 or over at the time of the alleged abuse, then a civil action 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.
Currently, the time limits for filing a claim of childhood clergy abuse above apply only to claims against the individual abuser. The plaintiff must file a claim against a person or entity who enabled or failed to prevent abuse—such as a church leader or entity—before reaching age 26.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
About Assembly Bill 218
A proposed law currently pending in the California Assembly would increase the time survivors of childhood clergy sexual abuse would have to file a claim. If it becomes law, Assembly Bill 218 would likely expand the number of Californians who have a viable claim against their clerical abusers and, importantly, the church.
As written, the proposed law would give survivors until they turn 40 to file suit against church entities who enabled or failed to prevent childhood clergy abuse. Significantly, the law would also revive some claims against clerical abusers and church entities that have otherwise expired under existing law. In addition, the law would triple the damages on anyone who covered up clergy sexual abuse of a child. This final provision would create an especially powerful change to the law, because allegations seen in numerous cases, in which church leadership re-assigned accused priests to other parishes rather than stopping their abuse, could fall within the proposed law’s definition of a coverup.
California Clergy Abuse Attorneys Want to Help You
Survivors of clergy abuse show incredible strength and courage in coming forward. At Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, the least we can do is help those brave Californians to understand their legal options for holding clergy and the church accountable through the civil legal process.
If you have questions about pursuing a lawsuit for clergy abuse, we invite you to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with one of our compassionate, dedicated clergy abuse lawyers. You can reach us at (510) 262-1226 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.”