California’s Catholic bishops targeted in sex abuse lawsuit

Tom Emens, left, who was sexually abused by a priest, speaks on his experience next to attorney Jeff Anderson on Oct. 2, 2018, in Los Angeles. Anderson is holding a photograph of Emens as a boy next to the priest who abused him, Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan. Survivors of clergy sexual assault announced the filing of a nuisance lawsuit against California Roman Catholic bishops for covering up abuse. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who says he was sexually abused decades ago by his parish priest said he is suing all Catholic bishops in California and the Archdiocese of Chicago, seeking to compel church officials to release records on clergy abuse.

The filing Tuesday (Oct. 2) in Los Angeles by Thomas Emens claims a civil conspiracy among church officials to cover up clergy sexual assault and move offending priests to other parishes.

Emens said at a news conference that he was abused for two years starting in 1978 when he was 10 years old by Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan. The priest, who is deceased, arrived at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim in the early 1970s from Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is to find justice — to get the clerics at the top to come clean and tell the truth,” Emens said.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said the goal of the so-called nuisance lawsuit is to force the church to reveal the names of all priests accused of child molestation. He said church documents would reveal a playbook among bishops and other officials to protect offending clergy by keeping files under wraps and moving the priests across the country and, in some cases, out of the U.S.

The lawsuit asks a judge “to abate the continuing nuisance” of abuse by ordering each diocese to name all accused priests, detail their history of alleged assault and identify their last known addresses.

The California Catholic Conference of Bishops, which oversees the state’s 12 dioceses, didn’t directly address the lawsuit in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Instead the group pointed out the “positive steps taken by California dioceses over the past 15 years to protect children and young people from abuse.”

Reforms implemented in 2003’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People include “fingerprinting and background checks for priests, staff and any volunteers working around children and young people,” the statement said.

Every diocese has also instituted programs to train students and staff in identifying and preventing abuse, the group said.

A call seeking comment from the Archdiocese of Chicago was not immediately returned.

The court filing invokes both public and private statutes of nuisance law in California. Such laws generally involve behavior that negatively affects a community or interferes with the use and enjoyment of private property, said John Nockleby, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Alleging nuisance violations in relation to past sexual abuse by a single priest is a “creative approach” by Emens’ lawyers, said Nockleby, adding that it will be very difficult to prove in court.

Criminal charges are not feasible in this case because they would fall outside California’s statute of limitations.

(Christopher Weber writes for The Associated Press.)

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  • The organization’s name is “The California Catholic Conference,” not “The California Catholic Conference of Bishops.” It does not “oversee the state’s twelve dioceses,” but coordinates their responses to issues, without supervisory authority over local bishops. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was published in June 2002, not 2003.
    RNS needs to proofread the essays it runs.

  • “Attorney Jeff Anderson said the goal of the … nuisance lawsuit ….” says it all.

    He’s planning on upgrading from a Benz to a Bentley.

    He fed this to one of his touts at the AP to stir up some business.

    You’ll never hear another word about it.

  • So nice to see you exercising the respect for others that Jesus preached, and concern for victims…as usual.

  • It is indisputable fact that the church has lied repeatedly in the past on this matter–even while piously claiming “this time we are telling the truth, we will end this abuse and coverup”, etc etc. .

    Thus, it has no credibility, and lawsuits are the only effective way of dislodging information.

  • Indeed some bishops have chauffeurs. It makes talking with individuals in the back seat much more productive.