Calif. advances abuse bill that could bankrupt Catholic dioceses

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 10, 2013 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A California sex abuse bill that has been described as discriminatory against the Catholic Church has passed the legislature and is advancing to the governor’s desk.

Last Friday, the bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 21-8 at the close of the legislative session, and opponents are now asking for a veto from California Governor Jerry Brown.

The legislation would lift the statute of limitations on child sex abuse lawsuits against private schools and private employers who failed to take action against sexual abuse by employees or volunteers. It would allow alleged victims younger than 31 to sue employers of abusers, extending present age limit for alleged victims presently set at 26 years-old.

The bill specifically exempts public schools and other government institutions from lawsuits. It also exempts the actual perpetrators of the abuse from civil action in some cases, while leaving their employers vulnerable.

Potentially the most damaging provision of the legislation creates a one-year window on the statute of limitations for sex abuse lawsuits against employers.

A similar legal window in 2003 resulted in almost 1,000 claims against the Catholic Church in California, with legal awards totaling to $1.2 billion. Some of these claims dated back to the 1950s.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA June 11 that the Catholic Church in California can no longer rely on insurance policies and sales of property and other assets to meet the costs of any new lawsuits.

“If there were claims that were resurrected for a third time, you can find situations where dioceses might be forced to close schools. In the case of one of our dioceses, the Diocese of Stockton, they’re worried they might have to file for bankruptcy,” he said.

Other opponents of the bill include private institutions such as the YMCA, the YWCA, and the California Council of Non-Profit Organizations.

The Wall Street Journal criticized the bill as a “nonprofit shakedown” that targets the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the “political enemies” of the legislature, in which Democrats hold a supermajority of seats.

The California Catholic Conference said the bill forces private employers by “forcing them to deal with an unworkable legal and business climate where they face unlimited liability of unlimited duration.”

The bill creates conditions where “the passage of time makes it impossible to mount an effective defense,” the conference said in a June 12 alert.

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