In recent years, clergy members and leadership of the Catholic Church and other faith communities stand accused of committing and/or facilitating sexual abuse of parishioners. Some of the most troubling allegations concern clergy abuse of children. Thousands of survivors of clergy abuse have come forward with allegations that have prompted deep soul-searching that continues within and beyond the church. Some courageous survivors, including many in California, have taken the further step of taking legal action against their abusers and the church institutions that facilitated their abuse.
BishopAccountability.org lists the Catholic Diocese of San Jose, California, as a Diocese where priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse once ministered to parishioners—including children. The Diocese of San Jose encompasses the parishes located in Santa Clara County.
Survivors of alleged clergy abuse often have questions about seeking accountability through the California courts. Our sexual abuse injury lawyers at Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, can help answer them. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation.
Legal Accountability for Clergy Abuse
Sexual abuse is a crime, but sadly clergy abuse is not always prosecuted. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse, however, are not limited to relying on criminal prosecutors to hold their alleged abusers accountable. In recent years, brave survivors nationwide have taken their own legal actions to seek compensation from their alleged abusers and from the church institutions alleged to have facilitated the abuse. Many of those cases have alleged that church entities, through their leaders knew about clergy abuse of parishioners—including of children—but failed to put a stop to it.
Survivors of sexual abuse in California have the legal right to file a civil action against their abusers and others whose actions led to the abuse, seeking monetary damages and other remedies. The statute of limitations for filing claims of clergy sexual abuse varies depending on how old the survivor was when the alleged abuse happened. A bill currently pending in the California Assembly may expand the statute of limitations and make other changes to the law that could significantly increase the number of Californians who have a viable civil claim for clergy abuse.
Seeking Damages for Clergy Abuse
Survivors of clergy abuse often describe the lasting toll the abuse took on their lives. A civil action seeks to remedy these harms through monetary compensation. Some survivors may also seek punitive damages from their alleged abusers and those who facilitated them. Those damages aim to punish and deter misconduct. Finally, legal claims alleging clergy abuse frequently seek injunctions against church entities, which would direct those entities to take measures designed to protect against future clergy abuse.
Not all legal claims alleging clergy abuse involve the allegations of a single survivor. Sometimes, a sufficient number of survivors allege similar abuses for their claims to be pursued through group litigation. Though different in procedural form, these cases typically also seek compensatory, punitive, and injunctive remedies on behalf of the plaintiffs who bring them.
No civil claim is ever guaranteed to end favorably. However, many brave survivors of clergy abuse in California and elsewhere have recovered millions of dollars in damages by coming forward with their claims.
The Timing of Claims for Clergy Abuse in California (old statute)
The time limits applicable to filing a claim alleging sexual abuse, including claims involving clergy and church entities, vary in California depending on the age of the plaintiff when the abuse happened.
For claims related to childhood sexual abuse, the time limit for bringing suit is the later of:
- Eight years of the date the plaintiff turns 18; or
- Three years of 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)
- 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.
At present, however, the law limits claims alleging clergy abuse in California. The timeframes above apply only to claims against the actual alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse. A claim against a person or entity who enabled or failed to prevent abuse (like the Diocese of San Jose), which is the type of claim typically alleged against church entities, must be filed before the plaintiff reaches age 26.
New Clergy Abuse Statute For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse (Effective January 1, 2020):
About Assembly Bill 218
Assembly Bill 218, which is currently pending in the California Assembly, aims to extend the time periods applicable to asserting claims of childhood sexual abuse, including those alleged against the clergy and church institutions. These changes could significantly increase the number of Californians with viable civil claims for clergy abuse.
The bill, as currently written, would change the law to allow survivors up to the age of 40 to seek compensation from church entities who enabled or failed to prevent childhood clergy abuse. The bill would also revive, for three years, claims of childhood sexual abuse that have already expired under existing law. Finally, AB 218 would triple the damages recoverable against anyone who participated in covering up childhood sexual abuse, a provision that seems designed to address the allegations commonly made against church leadership for ignoring alleged clergy abuse.
Call our San Jose Clergy Abuse Attorneys for Help
Survivors of clergy abuse show incredible strength and courage in coming forward with their stories. At Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, we feel compelled to help those brave Californians to take steps to hold a clergy member and/or church entity accountable in any way the law allows.
Speaking with a clergy abuse attorney from Winer, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, is free and confidential. There is no obligation to move forward against an alleged abuser or a church entity. Our hope is only to support survivors in making informed choices about their legal options. Call us at (800) 652-6137 or visit us online to learn more.