Clergy abuse by church leaders is likely to cause deep physical, emotional and spiritual scars to victims for life. Thousands of CA clergy abuse survivors from the Catholic Church in the United States have come forward since the late 1990s. Successful lawsuits were filed in around Boston. That wave of clergy abuse lawsuits quickly flooded the Catholic Church on the opposite coast in California.
Temporary Extension of the Statute of Limitations
Before January 1, 2020, many clergy abuse victims were locked out of courthouses in California by the statute of limitations. With the passing of AB 219, California joined other states like New York and Pennsylvania, and courthouse doors were temporarily opened again for new case filings. They remain open until December 31, 2022. Well over 1,000 clergy sexual abuse lawsuits are expected to be filed in the state during this interim. AB 219 even allows refiling of certain clergy sex abuse lawsuits that had previously been dismissed because of the statute of limitations.
Many clergy sexual abuse victims’ problems were compounded by church officials who looked the other way or covered up the crimes. AB 219 allows for awards of triple damages in clergy sexual abuse cases when evidence of a cover-up is shown.
Dioceses are Turning to the Bankruptcy Courts
With the restoration of the rights of clergy sexual abuse victims came lawsuits that were immediately filed throughout the state. Two Roman Catholic dioceses in California have now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as they struggle to protect their assets and remain financially viable. About 30 others across the country have already made such filings. Although some insurance coverage exists, it’s wholly insufficient given the number of victims that will likely be awarded compensation for their damages. A diocese that files for bankruptcy typically comments that doing so will permit it to more fairly and equitably address claims asserted by those who purport to be clergy sexual abuse victims.
How Are Diocese Bankruptcies being Handled?
When a bankruptcy case against a diocese is filed, all sexual abuse lawsuits against it are stayed until further order of the bankruptcy court. Various assets of the diocese are then frozen, and a deadline for filing claims in the bankruptcy court is set. The diocese will submit a reorganization plan, and the court and creditors will review it. Both the court and creditors must approve it. Many diocese bankruptcy reorganization plans propose that a separate segregated fund be established for the benefit of those who prevail on their sexual abuse claims.
The courthouse doors that were closed for many years have been opened again for survivors of clergy sexual abuse in California. Remember that those doors will close again on December 31, 2022.