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Court to Clarify Statute of Limitations in Clergy Abuse Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How long should a clergy abuse claim survive?

In 2010, the Holy See’s Promoter of Justice at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, indicated to the Italian Bishops’ Conference newspaper, Avennire, that statutes of limitations should not apply to clergy sex abuse cases. If the California Supreme Court adopts that position, it could open the door for “a rash of new clergy abuse lawsuits by long-ago victims against the Catholic Church,” reports The Washington Post.

Last Thursday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Quarry v. Doe, a case in which six brothers are challenging California's statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims. The brothers claim that they were abused by an Oakland priest in 1970s.

The issue in the case is how the court will interpret California Civil Code section 340.1. The law was enacted in 1986, and has been amended four times since then to expand the statute of limitations. The law was even amended to allow for a one-year window during which victims could bring otherwise-time-barred claims.

Section 340.1 states that an action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within three years of discovering that injury occurred as the result of the abuse, or within eight years after the plaintiff attains the age of majority, whichever is later.

The brothers argue that their claim survives because they brought it within three years of discovering that they were psychologically damaged by the alleged abuse. The Church, however, argues that the claim is time-barred because the brothers were well over the age of 26 when they filed their lawsuit.

In 2009, a California appellate court concluded that the 2002 amendments were intended to lift the age-26 cutoff in favor of the 3-years-from-realization cutoff, which would permit the brothers' to proceed with their claim. The California Supreme Court, however, seemed hesitant to adopt that interpretation during last week's hearing.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye noted during the hearing, "We don't read vague language to revive lapsed claims," reports the Post.

At least eight other clergy abuse claims with similar fact patterns will be affected by the ruling. The court will release an opinion on the statute of limitations interpretation within 90 days.

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