Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2021 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- California bishops are asking a judge to overturn a state law that extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims.
The state now allows adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil claims in old abuse cases until the age of 40, or five years after an adult survivor realizes they have been abused.
In addition, survivors are eligible under the law for triple damages in the event of an institutional cover up of the abuse. Previously, survivors of child sex abuse had to file civil claims by age 26, or within three years of realizing their abuse.
The new law also created a three-year window for abuse claims beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, in cases where the old statute of limitations had already expired. The legislation, Assembly Bill 218, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in Oct., 2019, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
The law is being challenged by the archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the bishops of Orange, Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Santa Rosa. Only two of the state’s dioceses, San Diego and San Bernardino, are not listed in the motions.
The bishops argued that it is difficult for defense to address old abuse claims, and they say that the law is unconstitutional. They made the arguments in two different motions to overturn the law, filed in different parts of the state.
In Alameda County, located in northern California, the bishops argued that the extended statute of limitations makes it “inevitable that witnesses will have died, memories faded, and documents may have been lost. This reality absolutely impairs the defendants’ ability to defend themselves.”
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles argued in Los Angeles County court that the legislation “seeks to correct an injustice that does not exist with regard to the church defendants,” and there is no evidence of an archdiocesan-wide cover-up of abuse or even “of widespread abuse after 2003.”
The Catholic dioceses of the state have already paid more than $1 billion to survivors of sexual abuse.
When the bill was signed in Oct., 2019, the executive director of the state’s Catholic Conference said he desired that “all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved,” and hoped that the bill “will be a step forward in that direction.”
“The Catholic Church has confronted this issue of child sexual abuse for more than two decades now,” California Catholic Conference executive director Andy Rivas said. “It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them.”