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Several Catholic dioceses in California have announced plans to offer compensation to survivors of sexual abuse through a compensation program similar to the programs operating in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.  The programs will be administered by the same people who administer the ones in the east coast states.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, along with the dioceses of Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Fresno, and San Diego have announced they will offer such compensation to survivors.

The announcement comes as lawmakers plan to roll back the statute of limitations in California on sex abuse cases that happened when the survivors were children.  The law change is expected sometime next year.

Of course, many abuse advocates view the compensation programs as a way for the Catholic Church in California to forestall future lawsuits which would inevitably be the result of the law change.  If passed, AB-218 would open up the statute of limitation for those who were sexually abused as minors. Right now, survivors can file claims up until they turn 26-years-old through the court; this bill would change the age to 40.

AB-218 would also expand the definition of sexual abuse and instead refer to it as childhood sexual assault. The bill has passed through the assembly and is expected to pass through the senate.

The debate concerning the efficacy of the compensation plans is heated and is clearly a way for the Catholic Church to avoid expensive litigation.  However, the offers made in the compensation program may be rejected and the survivor may choose litigation if he or she receives a compensation offer that is inadequate or unjust.  One of the clear drawbacks to the compensation program is that it allows the Catholic Church to keep their secrets.  Participation in the compensation fund means that no new revelations will be discovered and the extent of the malfeasance of bishops and cardinals in California will remain hidden.  On the other hand, each survivor should be allowed to have a clear choice and make a decision based upon their particular circumstances.

In spite of the pending law change, there are a number of Catholic dioceses in California which have chosen not to participate in the compensation program, notably the Archdiocese of San Francisco.  If AB-218 passes and is signed into law by the Governor, the Catholic Church in California will face a tsunami of new lawsuits with fresh allegations of abuse and corruption.  The last wave of lawsuits in California occurred during an earlier period where “window” legislation allowed survivors to come forward and the results were devastating to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Cardinal Roger Mahony in particular.  Mahony’s ill-fated attempt to block public access to church documents eventually led to his demise.  New litigation in other dioceses in California would most likely bring similar results.

As an advocate for abuse survivors and a lawyer who has been fighting for the rights of those abused by priests, I am presently speaking with abuse survivors in California.  I am a California lawyer with an office in downtown Los Angeles.  If you or a loved one have been abused by a Catholic priest, please feel free to contact me.

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