Lawsuit Alleges Sexual Abuse at Catholic Church in Hemet
By Sean Emery
Orange County Register
December 30, 2019
A former altar server and youth group member has filed a lawsuit alleging he was abused while underage at a Catholic church in Hemet, marking the latest civil case to be filed on the eve of a new state law that gives alleged victims of childhood sexual assault more time to come forward.
In a lawsuit filed last week in San Bernardino Superior Court, attorneys with the Jeff Anderson & Associates law firm allege that their client, during his early teens, was sexually abused over a period of several years in the early 1990s by former Fr. Louis G. Perreault.
The law firm, which specializes in representing childhood abuse survivors, late last week announced similar lawsuits alleging abuse and systematic cover-ups at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and St. Francis High School in La Canada Flintridge.
The lawsuits were made possible by Assembly Bill 218, which extends the time that victims of childhood sexual abuse can sue, and provides those for whom the previous statute of limitations had run out a three year window to bring claims.
The legislation was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October and takes effect Jan. 1.
“Children who may be hurt today, because of this law may now bring a claim later in life when they are able to deal with this and when they are able to speak about the assault they suffered,” said Mike Reck, an attorney with Anderson & Associates involved in the recent lawsuits, during a news conference Monday morning in Riverside.
A Diocese of San Bernardino spokesman said the organization has not yet received the lawsuit, but noted that Perreault was among several dozen priests the diocese has acknowledged was accused of sexually abusing children.
Officials with the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses’ also indicated last week that they hadn’t yet received the recent lawsuits, but generally cited culture changes within their organizations regarding abuse of minors and a move to increased transparency.
The law allows plaintiffs to remain anonymous when filing the lawsuits, and the Southern California News Group does not generally identify alleged sexual assault victims. However, the plaintiff in the newly filed San Bernardino lawsuit, Nick Flores, chose to file the civil claim under his own name and identified himself during the Monday morning news conference.
According to the lawsuit, Perreault was ordained in 1962, then worked in a variety of locations across the country, including Arizona, Louisiana and Texas, before arriving in Hemet in 1988, where he stayed for more than a decade.
The lawsuit alleges that Perreault “groomed” Flores through his position as a “spiritual guide, authority figure and trustworthy mentor” before repeatedly sexually assaulting and abusing Flores.
Reck said Perreault’s alleged actions illustrate how San Bernardino became a “dumping ground for priests with moral and mental problems.”
The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, first exposed by the Boston Globe in 2002, reignited in September 2018 due to a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found more than 300 priests had molested at least 1,000 children, and likely thousands more, over a 70-year period.
Last year, the Diocese of San Bernardino released a list of 34 priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children since the diocese formed in 1978. That list included Perreault, and indicated that diocese leaders became aware of, and reported to police, the allegations against him in 2011 before banning him from ministry in the diocese.
The Diocese of San Bernardino described the list as a “good-faith” effort to disclose the names of all priests with “credible allegations,” and indicated they would add new names if additional allegations arose.
“In this difficult time I wanted to be open, honest and accountable to the Catholic faithful, and to all people of good will,” Bishop Gerald Barnes said in a videotaped message to all diocese parishioners released at the time the list was disclosed.
“I again offer my apologies and my deepest regrets to those who were victimized by the men on this list, and to all the faithful of the diocese who have been scandalized by this shameful chapter in our church’s history.”
In May, a compensation program for victim’s of clergy sexual abuse was formed by six Catholic dioceses in California, including those in San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Staff writer Scott Schwebke contributed to this report.