The new year brought a new law to California’s books that extends the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual assault and abuse to age 40 from its previous limit of 26. The law was spearheaded by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s law follows a series of moves by municipalities across the country to give survivors more time to process and try to come to terms with the abuse they endured as minors and recognizes that healing from such abuse can take decades.
The California legislation also opened a three-year window for survivors of any age to revisit claims that may not have been filed due to the expiration of the previous statute of limitations. During the window, cases for any alleged abuse at any point in time can be filed regardless of the age of the victim or whether the alleged abuser is alive or deceased.
Six such lawsuits were filed the day after the law took effect. 20 plaintiffs have filed claims in California Superior Court and allege that not only were they abused at the hands of Catholic clergy members, but that the dioceses took measures to protect its priests and simply moved them from parish to parish rather than separating them from the Church and handing them over to authorities. Members of the priests’ new parishes were never told why the priests were there or that they represented a potential threat to parishioners and their children.
According to the attorney who filed the lawsuits, “this is only the beginning.” San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin says that he has an additional 60 cases that will be filed in the coming months.
Zalkin is no stranger to holding the Church accountable for the crimes of its priests. According to the Los Angeles Times, Zalkin’s efforts in 2007 led to a $198 million settlement that drove the dioceses into bankruptcy. The new lawsuits stem from incidents of abuse that took place during the 1950’s through the 1980’s. The six priests named in the lawsuits have all deceased.