California Bishops Open Six Sexual Abuse Compensation Programs; Abuse Survivors Need to Know Their Rights

(California) – Today, six Catholic Bishops in California announced the opening of compensation programs for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Survivors who are eligible for these programs must register by January 31, 2020. As of today, compensation programs are being offered by the following Archdiocese and Dioceses:

–    Archdiocese of Los Angeles
–    Diocese of San Diego
–    Diocese of San Bernardino
–    Diocese of Orange
–    Diocese of Fresno
–    Diocese of Sacramento

While these programs will be available to many survivors of child sexual abuse, the Bishops have created their own rules and participation requirements, excluding many survivors. The programs present opportunities for compensation that need to be analyzed with the greatest care because they also come with potential barriers to justice and do not provide accountability and transparency.

“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. “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.”

Aside from the window, the bill also changes the statute of limitations and raises the age limit to file a sexual abuse lawsuit from age 26 to age 40, or within five years of the date a survivor discovers the psychological injury or illness caused by the abuse (whichever comes later).The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020, if signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Jeff Anderson and Associates has worked with survivors who participated in similar compensation programs in Dioceses throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While these programs present an action to consider, survivors need to know their legal rights and what it means to participate in these programs. While the compensation programs may resolve faster than the ordinary course of civil litigation in the courts, the compensation programs also limit justice, transparency and healing, in the following ways:

  • 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.

These programs can offer some measure of justice, but they must be carefully analyzed. Priest abuse survivors have other legal options and we encourage all survivors of priest sexual abuse to consult with legal counsel before engaging with any of these compensation programs.