Feb 20, 2023
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a formal letter to the state’s 12 Roman Catholic dioceses indicating an upcoming review which includes an examination of whether the archdiocese properly reported allegations of child sexual abuse as mandated under law, according to a report from KQED.
In what KQED referred to as a “long awaited move,” A.G. Becerra asked the dioceses to preserve all records relating to child sexual abuse, including those in “secret archives.”
Joey Piscitelli, a representative from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), told KQED he welcomes the Attorney General’s action. Piscitelli also noted that merely asking the diocese to self-report – the protocol prior to Becerra issuing the letters – simply hasn’t been working.
“That’s why it’s necessary for the Attorney General to take these steps, so they can be investigated more,” Piscitelli said to KQED.
“Piscitelli says he and other survivors had a meeting with Becerra and district attorneys across the state last fall. He said they were looking for information on bishops who may have covered up sexual abuse allegations. Becerra’s office confirmed the meeting but not the details of it,” KQED reported.
As KQED also noted, Attorney General Becerra’s action mirrors similar steps taken by district attorneys in California’s Central Valley. According to the report, at least seven county district attorneys have come together in an effort to audit the Catholic Diocese of Fresno’s archive.
The Fresno Diocese reportedly indicated in March 2022 that a review of records for cases of possible sexual abuse would be conducted.
“In a bid to be more transparent, the dioceses hired Dr. Kathleen McChesney, CEO of Kinsale Management Consulting and a former FBI Executive Assistant Director, to conduct an independent audit of its records,” KQED reported.
KQED also indicated that the Fresno Diocese confirmed McChensey’s hiring was “to ensure that this task is objectively completed in a timely manner.”
District attorneys throughout California reportedly remain skeptical of whether or not Catholic dioceses will conduct reviews in a transparent manner.
“Madera County DA Sally Moreno, who took office in January, said she sped up the timeline to review church records, after recent allegations were made against a longtime Bakersfield priest Monsignor Craig Harrison,” KQED reported.
Details provided by KQED related to the alleged sexual misconduct by Harrison include:
“Harrison served as pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Bakersfield for nearly two decades. He is also the chaplain for the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office,” KQED said.
KQED reported on an additional Catholic sex abuse incident which came to light in April 2022:
“Father Hector David Mendoza-Vela, the pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont, told police that he touched the genitals of a teenage boy over his pants at least 20 times over an 18-month period.”
KQED noted that at the present time, A.G. Becerra’s request for church records is voluntary. However, SNAP’s Piscitelli hopes that if the churches do not comply, the state Attorney General will subpoena the documents.
“Then we’ll see the true magnitude of what was going on in California,” he said to KQED.
A recent report from the Catholic News Agency (CNA) confirmed that the San Diego Diocese is considering declaring bankruptcy due to what Cardinal Robert McElroy referred to as the “staggering” legal costs of responding to 400 new lawsuits brought during a three-year statewide expansion of the statute of limitations for child abuse cases known as AB 218.
“Bankruptcy would provide a pathway for ensuring that the assets of the diocese will be used equitably to compensate all victims of sexual abuse while continuing the ministries of the Church for faith formation, pastoral life, and outreach to the poor and the marginalized,” McElroy wrote in a letter to parishioners in the diocese dated February 10.
“The sexual abuse of minors by priests and the way it was handled in the life of the Church constitute the greatest sin of our Church in the last century. We must and will continue to protect minors with ever deeper vigor, provide healing resources to those who have been abused, and use our diocesan assets to compensate those who were victimized. And we will never forget the harm that we have done,” McElroy added.
In 2007, the San Diego Diocese reportedly paid out $198 million to settle 144 claims of child sexual abuse that had been brought during an earlier lifting of the statute of limitations (pre-AB 218).
Earlier this month, two California elected officials announced proposed legislation which would eliminate the statute of limitations (or deadline) for filing a child sexual abuse civil lawsuit.
California AB 452 was submitted by Assemblymember Dawn Addis from Morro Bay and Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley. If passed, the legislation would ensure that if a child is sexually abused, no deadline will be imposed on a survivor who wants to try to get justice in court – regardless of how many years may have elapsed since the crime occurred.
Assemblymember Addis and Senator Skinner released a statement following the introduction of Assembly Bill 452 which noted how a statute of limitations can often impede justice in child sexual abuse cases:
“It’s unacceptable and cruel that many California victims of childhood sex abuse are unable to hold their abusers accountable because our law now says their time has run out. AB 452 will right this wrong by eliminating the deadline for taking civil action against child abusers and those who aided or allowed the abuse to happen or covered it up.”
If you or someone you love is considering pursuing a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Church, a school, teacher, coach, or other clergy member, Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) team of dedicated professionals has compiled some resources for you to explore.
The difficulty inherent in deciding whether or not to come forward and seek justice is highly personal and can only be fully understood by a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. If you have questions regarding a possible claim against the Catholic Church or another sex crime matter, please contact us today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM.
DLG is headed by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County who serves as a member of RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) National Leadership Council. For more than 25 years, Dordulian has been fighting for justice on behalf of sexual abuse survivors, securing over 100 jury trial victories and in excess of $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts.
A sexual abuse civil claim can be a means of obtaining much-needed financial compensation for damages, such as:
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.