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Suits Await New Sex-Abuse Law

Jan 1, 2003 | AP

A California law that will lift the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases for one year, allowing victims more time to sue for damages, goes into effect today and at least two men already have plans to sue under the new law.

The law, the first of its kind in the nation, will allow suits to be filed against churches or other institutions that continued to employ known molesters who went on to abuse other victims regardless of when the abuse took place.

Under current law, people alleging childhood sexual abuse have until their 26th birthday, or three years after discovering emotional problems linked to childhood molestation, to take legal action. The new law requires lawsuits to be filed in 2003.

Dennis Kavanaugh, a San Jose man who says he was molested by a priest, and another man who wished to remain anonymous, expect to be among the first to file suit under the new statute.

Kavanaugh claims Father Joseph Pritchard, who served in two dioceses in the San Francisco Bay area, molested him in 1971 and 1972 when Kavanaugh was 15. Pritchard died in the early 1990s.

Kavanaugh, now in his mid-40s, plans to sue the archdioceses of San Francisco and San Jose in San Francisco Superior Court, according to Dave Drivon, an attorney who is representing Kavanaugh and over 200 other men and women who say they were victimized by Catholic clergy.

"My clients are entitled to restitution," said Drivon. "These are people who suffered in silence and shame for many years and who were not in a position to come forward earlier."

On Dec. 8, California’s 12 Roman Catholic bishops read a letter to parishioners warning the statute will bring a rash of multimillion dollar lawsuits against the church.

Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests planned to hand out leaflets at eight shopping centers in California today. They hope to educate the public at large, and molestation victims in particular, about new legal rights under the state statute.

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