Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill on Thursday giving prosecutors more time to press charges in potential child sex abuse cases stemming from decades-old allegations.
The law could help authorities investigating 19 potential sex abuse cases involving Los Angeles priests where time limits were set to expire beginning Monday.
But the law’s future is uncertain the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that challenges whether California can legally prosecute decades-old molestation charges. A decision is expected in July.
California prosecutors used to have one year to press charges after receiving accusations of child sexual abuse. But the law was changed after prosecutors claimed defenders of suspected Los Angeles priests were running out the clock on the time limit by challenging their attempts to gather evidence.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles says the documents prosecutors want are confidential. The new law would stop the one-year clock from running while judges consider the merits of defense challenges.
A spokesman for the archdiocese declined comment Thursday. The Sacramento-based California Catholic Conference, which speaks on church public policy, reported no position on the bill.
The Supreme Court will rule on a 1994 California law that allows prosecutors to bring charges within a year of a victim informing police, no matter how long ago the abuses took place. Before 1994, authorities had to bring charges within three to six years of the crimes being committed.
The bill signed on Thursday eliminates the one-year requirement if a suspect is challenging a grand jury subpoena for evidence.
Also Thursday, a defrocked priest charged under the 1994 law pleaded innocent to molesting a female relative more than 40 years ago while assigned to a Catholic high school.
Matthew Michael Sprouffske, 76, remained free on $25,000 bail pending a hearing to determine if he must stand trial on four counts of committing lewd acts with a minor under 14. He was removed from the priesthood last April.
In other news stemming from the nationwide clergy abuse scandal:
Two men sued Pennsylvania’s Altoona-Johnstown diocese, its bishop and a former bishop, alleging they failed to protect them from being molested by priests who had earlier been accused of abuse.
One of the plaintiffs, Darrin Mangiacarne, 25, alleges that Monsignor Thomas Mabon molested him while he was an altar boy in a Hollidaysburg church from 1988 to 1990. Mabon told Mangiacarne the abuse “would serve as penance for his confession,” the lawsuit said.
Reached at his home in Johnstown, Mabon denied the allegations.