Archdiocese to Face Amended Sex-abuse Suit
By Jeff D. Gorman
Courthouse News Service
June 6, 2016
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is not off the hook for two men's claims that a monsignor molested them decades ago, a California appeals court ruled.
Juan H.J. Doe and Juan H.L. Doe claimed that Monsignor Benjamin Hawkes molested them from the mid-1970s to the early to mid-1980s. During that period, the boys were ages 14 through 21.
Hawkes, who died in 1985, "lavished them with meals, clothes, travel and money," according to court records. He also allegedly financed trips and paid for J. Doe's private school tuition.
The monsignor, who worked for the Los Angeles archdiocese at the time, "communicated in words and deeds that the compensation he was providing for them was for the abuse he was committing upon them, and that by providing for [them] in this manner, Hawkes believed he owned [them]," according to the two men's lawsuit.
J. Doe contacted the archdiocese in 1996 to report the abuse, and the archdiocese paid for his psychological counseling, court records show.
Both Does sued the archdiocese in 2014 for negligence and child sexual abuse.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with the archdiocese that the suit was untimely because it was filed 30 years after the abuse allegedly took place.
The Does appealed, arguing that they should have been allowed to amend their complaint.
The Second District California Court of Appeal considered this argument by asking, "are the money and gifts contemporaneous with the sexual abuse, or the psychological counseling provided to J. Doe in 1996, 'advance payment or partial payment of damages'" that would toll the statute of limitations?
Justice Brian M. Hoffstadt said the answer is no when the payments are also being used to "facilitate a crime."
"Payments a child molester makes to seduce and keep his victims open to future abuse—so-called 'grooming' payments— are part and parcel of the sexual abuse itself," he wrote for a three-judge panel.
However, unlike the trial court, Hoffstadt opened the door for the Does to amend their complaint.
"The complaint alleges when the payments started, but is silent as to when they stopped," he wrote. "To the extent Hawkes made payments that were not in part for purposes of grooming or encouraging the plaintiffs not to report the abuse, there is a 'reasonable possibility' that those payments may be solely compensatory and thus subject to tolling under