A new law that took effect Wednesday gives alleged victims of priestly sexual abuse more time to sue, but Southern California dioceses have won a reprieve in more than 100 potential cases.
Lawyers for alleged victims of priests in Los Angeles and Orange counties agreed Tuesday to try to mediate claims instead of taking them immediately to court, said attorney Katherine Kay Freberg, who represents nearly 80 alleged victims.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange will be given about 90 days to reach out-of-court settlements, attorneys said.
“Mediation is always better than conflict,” said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese. “The archdiocese believes that legitimate victims of sexual abuse by clergy deserve consideration of compensation for their suffering.”
It was unclear how much settlements might cost the two dioceses but it is estimated that $150 million in insurance money may be available to cover them, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday, citing a church official it did not identify.
More than 30 current or former priests in the archdiocese are under investigation for alleged sexual abuse of children.
The Times said the church would provide plaintiffs’ attorneys with confidential personnel files on accused priests.
The archdiocese also agreed to drop a threatened challenge to the law, and a church official said that might convince other California church leaders to hold off, the Times said.
California’s 12 Roman Catholic bishops had opposed the new law, warning that it would bring a rash of multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the church.
It remains to be seen whether the church will negotiate in good faith or use the mediation as a stalling tactic, said Mary Grant, Southwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
“I’m sure most survivors would hope that this is a step that may be in the right direction,” Grant said. “But we’ve been told things by bishops before that haven’t been true. I think most survivors will be cautiously optimistic.”
The new law lifts the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases for one year, allowing victims more time to sue for damages. It involves 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 the Rev. 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, planned to sue the archdioceses of San Francisco and San Jose in San Francisco Superior Court, attorney Dave Drivon said.