Date set for oral arguments in case that will set precedent for clergy sex abuse lawsuits in Louisiana

KADN - Fox 15 [Lafayette LA]

January 4, 2024

NEW ORLEANS (KADN) — The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments on January 23 in a civil case against the Diocese of Lafayette and St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville.

In the lawsuit, six plaintiffs allege they were molested by Father Kenneth Morvant decades ago when they were between the ages of 8 and 14.

The issue going before the Supreme Court is a 2021 law that created a three-year “lookback” window. The law gives survivors of sexual abuse up until June 14, 2024 to file civil lawsuits, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. Previously, survivors had until they turned 28 years old to file such claims.

“The issue before the Louisiana Supreme Court is whether the newly-enacted legislation applies to the cases, and whether it’s constitutional,” said attorney Cle’ Simon, the plaintiffs’ attorney in a December interview with News15. “The church has taken the position, at least in litigation, that the claims of sexual abuse at the hands of various priests involved have prescribed, or that too much time has gone by, and therefore, the suits aren’t timely.”

Simon said the “lookback” law has been challenged by the church, but upheld in district and appellate courts.

“The Supreme Court is the ultimate decider of the law in Louisiana. If they (are) consistent with the Court of Appeal, then all of these victims that exist will have their day in court. If the Supreme Court somehow finds a way to reverse what the Court of Appeal has ruled, then every one of these cases will be dismissed,” added Simon.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops has filed an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in the case. That means the organization is showing support for the diocese in the lawsuit. When the lookback law was first proposed, the LCCB initially opposed the legislation, but later withdrew that opposition.