Lawsuits against Diocese of Monterey Affected by California Supreme Court Ruling
By Virginia Hennessey
Monterey County Herald
April 10, 2012
Three of four clergy-abuse lawsuits pending against the Diocese of Monterey will likely be dismissed or settled for small sums after a recent state Supreme Court ruling.
In a case that was being watched throughout the state, the high court ruled the statute of limitations had expired for six brothers seeking damages from the Oakland Diocese for abuse they allegedly suffered in the 1970s at the hands of a parish priest.
The ruling evaluated the evolving statute of limitations in lawsuits against third-party defendants, such as employers. Issued March 29, the 5-2 opinion created a select category of victims who turned 26 before 1998 but did not file lawsuits during a one-year window of opportunity created by the legislature in 2003.
Among them are two Sacramento men who sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey in 2011 alleging the Rev. William Allison abused them when they were children at San Carlos School in Monterey in the 1960s.
The men claim diocese officials knew Allison molested "many children" in Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana and was sent to a Roman Catholic "treatment center" before he was shuffled to Monterey.
The Supreme Court ruling leaves them without a defendant. Allison is dead.
"John Doe R.F." is the third man affected by the ruling. He alleges he was abused by a not-yet identified priest in Pajaro or Watsonville in the 1960s. He filed suit against the priest and the diocese last year, when he was 61.
His attorney, Larry
Biegel, said the man did not forget the abuse, but tamped down the memories to pursue a professional career. He sought therapeutic help, and recognized the effect of the abuse on his adult life, Biegel said, after becoming distraught while watching a 2011 TV program about survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Unlike the Sacramento men, he still has a defendant. Biegel said he has the videotaped deposition of the priest, who is "96 and quite lucid" and living in Ridgecrest in Kern County.
The Monterey attorney said he is "legally bound" not to name the man at this time.
The high court's inquiry looked at the way statutes of limitation have changed in child sexual abuse cases since 1998. That year, legislators opened the door for lawsuits against third-party defendants, but said the suits must be brought by the time the alleged victim turned 26. The law did not reopen the statute for those who had already turned 26.
In 2002, legislators broadened the statute, allowing new victims to file suit within three years of realizing childhood abuse caused their adult psychological problems. And for those who turned 26 before 1998, it opened a one-year window of opportunity, beginning Jan. 1, 2003.
"Because plaintiffs did not bring their action within the one-year revival period prescribed by the 2002 amendment," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote of the Oakland brothers, "their claims are barred."
Given the ruling, a status hearing that had been scheduled for Friday in Doe R.F.'s case was continued until April 27. Paul Gaspari, the Monterey Diocese's San Francisco attorney, said he and Biegel are "talking about resolving the case."
Gaspari said he will be in discussions with Joseph George Sr., who represents the two Sacramento men.
George said he expects his plaintiffs will either voluntarily withdraw their complaints in the hope the law will change again or will accept small settlements from the diocese.
Both he and Biegel bemoaned the ruling, Quarry v. Doe, which cannot be appealed. Barring future legislative amendments broadening statutes of limitation, victims who turned 26 prior to 1998 will be blocked from suing anyone other than direct perpetrators.
"Quarry's problematic because it denies some survivors of crime to even get in the door of a courtroom," George said.
"There's an expectation that when you go into a church it is a refuge, and, obviously, we know it was not a refuge for these young boys for a number of years," Biegel said. "This just means that you can't even get the church in court."
The only remaining lawsuit naming the Diocese of Monterey is by a Salinas man who was abused by the Rev. Antonio Cortes, former pastor of St. Mary of the Nativity, in 2009. Sixteen at the time of the assault, the man filed suit last year, well within all statutes of limitations.
Cortes pleaded no contest to molestation and child pornography charges. He is believed to have fled to Mexico without reporting to probation or registering as a sex offender after serving a jail sentence.
The diocese settled another pending lawsuit involving San Juan Bautista priest Edward Fitz-Simmons in February with a $500,000 payment to the alleged victim of his abuse. Fitz-Simmons, who is suspended from pastoral duties, maintains he is innocent and has sued the diocese over its abandonment of his defense.
The ruling does not affect a recent lawsuit filed by a former Palma High School student who claims he was abused by the Rev. Gerald Funcheon, a chaplain and teacher, on a school trip in the 1980s.
The lawsuit is filed in Minnesota, where Funcheon's Crosier order was headquartered at the time. The man's claim is among dozens enmeshed in a New York bankruptcy case involving the Irish Christian Brothers.