The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an 11th-hour plea from nine Catholic bishops and archbishops, including Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa, seeking to strike down a California law allowing people to sue for sexual abuse. in childhood, regardless of when it happened.
Citing the “ruinous” cost of defending even illegitimate claims, church officials argued that reopening a three-year “look-back period” that extends the statute of limitations for such cases exposes them to unconstitutionally to liability in violation of due process protections – particularly since a one-year prior window in 2003 prompted massive settlements, the church assumed would be the final word on the scandal of the sexual abuse.
“Since the previous state stimulus law prompted dioceses to take dramatic steps to pay for the latest set of revived claims, dioceses are now largely defenseless against this second wave,” the petition reads. “The potential financial implications for the Church are therefore simply ruinous.”
The High Court’s refusal to hear the case allows state legislation to stand which opened a period in 2020 until December 31 allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their children. perpetrators and those who could have protected them.
Lawsuits involving the Catholic Church are coordinated statewide in proceedings at three courthouses, Northern California cases, including those involving the Diocese of Santa Rosa, cross the courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo’s Oakland.
Mike Reck, attorney for Jeff Anderson & Associations, a leading national firm in child sexual abuse cases, said he was aware at this point of up to 300 cases in the California proceedings from the North, although he was unable to break down the geographic areas they represent.
Reck, who runs Anderson’s West Coast office, said his firm currently represents 48 people who survived alleged abuse at parishes, schools, camps or other facilities associated with the Diocese of Santa Rosa. . He said he expected many more cases to come to light as the December deadline approached.
The diocese has a long and unfortunate history of abuse and had paid at least $33 million in 2019 to settle cases, many of which involved a group of four priests who had claimed numerous victims among themselves.
In 2019, Vasa released the names of 39 priests and deacons who had been credibly accused or committed child sexual abuse, about 25 of whom were deceased at the time.
Four of them – Gary Timmons, Don Kimball, Austin Peter Keegan and Francisco Xavier Ochoa – were responsible for 63 known victims. All but Timmons are dead.
The bishop was unavailable for comment on Tuesday afternoon, but Reck said Vasa has been fighting the state child abuse law “since its inception,” filing lawsuits on his own behalf because the diocese was a named defendant.
Other petition signatories included the archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the bishops of Orange, Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also intervened in the case.
You can reach editor Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.