SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Six Catholic bishops in California announced Monday the establishment of compensation programs for victims of clergy sex abuse.
Victims of clergy sex abuse who register by Jan. 31, 2020, will be eligible for compensation in one archdiocese and five dioceses in California, including the archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of San Diego, San Bernardino, Orange, Fresno and Sacramento.
The bishops offering these compensation programs have established their own rules and requirements that prevent many victims of clergy sex abuse from participating.
"Survivors have other options and recent legislative efforts indicate that one may be their best option yet," said attorney Jeff Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates (JAA), adding:
Just days ago, the California Legislature overwhelmingly passed California Assembly Bill 218, which provides a three-year window for sexual abuse survivors to bring lawsuits in cases that were previously barred by the statute of limitations. This would mean that lifetime of secrecy and shame can now be set aside and survivors may seek accountability in court no matter when the abuse occurred or how old the survivor is.
California Assembly Bill 218 raises the age limit for suing from 26 to 40 or within five years from when a victim of clergy sex abuse discovers any illness or psychological injury; psychological damage from sexual abuse can often surface long after the actual abuse.
If Gavin Newsom, governor of California, signs the law, then it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
According to JAA, which has worked with victims of clergy sex abuse who have participated in such compensation programs in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, these compensation programs often resolve faster than ordinary lawsuits, but they can also stifle justice, transparency and healing:
The programs offer moderate compensation only. The Dioceses do not produce or release information and secret documents showing abusers' histories and what the Dioceses knew and when they knew it. This impedes transparency, public safety and child protection. Lawsuits can be filed confidentially and survivors' identities can be kept private, contrary to information Bishops of the participating dioceses have disseminated. Through lawsuits, Dioceses are often ordered to disclose information and secret documents about the perpetrators and how Dioceses protected them;
The programs eliminate survivors' rights to bring lawsuits. By accepting a compensation program settlement, survivors must forever waive their future right to file a lawsuit against the Diocese;
The programs allow survivors to bring a claim against priests of the Diocese only, not religious order priests, unlike civil lawsuits in which survivors can bring claims for abuse by religious order priests, brothers and nuns, as well as non-clergy members.
Due to these possible pitfalls, the details of a compensation program must be analyzed carefully.
JAA recommends that victims of clergy sex abuse talk to a lawyer before going after any of these compensation programs.