Sex Abuse Claims Against the Catholic Church

California Governor Significantly Extends Statute of Limitations Period for Lawsuits Alleging Childhood Sexual Abuse


On October 13, 2019, California Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed AB 218 into law.  AB 218 both significantly extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases and broadened the definition of what is considered childhood sexual abuse.  The law took effect on January 1, 2020 and creates an unlimited statute of limitations for three years.  That means that anyone who was abused as a minor can file a claim for the next three years – regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.  The sole purpose of this new law was to make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring their abusers to justice.

In the law, there are time limits within which almost every type of claim must be brought.  In California, nearly all civil claims must be brought within two years.  That time limit is called the statute of limitations.  If a person fails to bring a claim within that time limit, the claim is forever barred by the law.

AB 218 was enacted in response to the years-long advocacy of medical professionals, sexual abuse survivors and their families.  As our society has become more aware of the prevalence of the sexual abuse of children, we have become more understanding of why it often takes so long for children to report their abuse.  Victims of childhood sexual abuse are often overcome with feelings of shame, self-blame and fear.  It is because of these complex emotions that abuse is often not reported until the survivor is an adult – well beyond the time for a traditional statute of limitations to run.

Over the past couple of years, fourteen other states across the country have extended their statute of limitations in a way similar to California – allowing thousands of victims to pursue cases against their abusers that would have been previously barred.  The laws of New York, California and New Jersey have the furthest “lookback windows” allowing sexual abuse claims to proceed no matter how old the case is.

These statutes have been particularly costly for the Catholic Church.  Experts estimate that as many as 5,000 new cases will be filed in New York and California alone resulting in over $4 billion paid out by the Catholic Church to settle clergy sex abuse cases since the first cases same to light in the 1980s.

As cases have begun to be filed across the country, many of the diocese have been driven to bankruptcy, just as the were in 2007 when the last round of statute of limitations were lifted by states to allow claims to proceed for abuse that had taken place years earlier.  Most of the suits allege that the diocese knew that priests were abusing children but took no action to stop the abuse.  Rather, the church covered it up and moved the priests from parish to parish without warning the new parishes or congregations of the allegations.

It is this practice in-particular that has driven several states, including California, to craft laws to punish the cover-ups.  In California, if a cover-up is proven, the plaintiff is entitled to triple the damages.

By signing AB 218, Governor Newsom has made it clear that California will hold those responsible for the sexual abuse of a child accountable.  The reach of the law is limitless for the next three years.  After 2023, survivors of child sexual abuse will still have until age 40 to bring their claim.  To further encourage survivors to bring claims, the courts continue to allow claims to be brought anonymously, regardless of the age of the plaintiff at the time of the suit.

If you or someone you love was abused a child, allow us to help you obtain justice.  The call is confidential and there is no obligation.