LA Archdiocese Won't Appeal Ruling Rejecting Bid to Join Lawsuit

By Andrea Almond
Associated Press
September 24, 2004

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Archdiocese will not appeal a ruling prohibiting it from joining a challenge to the state law that opened the door for hundreds of clergy sex-abuse lawsuits, lawyers said Friday.

The decision by the nation's largest archdiocese came a day after a federal judge denied its request to participate in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

That suit, filed by the diocese of Davenport, Iowa, challenges the constitutionality of a state law passed in 2002 that temporarily rolled back the statute of limitations in civil molestation cases. The law gave alleged victims until Dec. 31, 2003, to file lawsuits.

The Davenport diocese filed its suit in reaction to a lawsuit that claims one of its priests abused a parishioner in San Diego during the 1960s.

U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the Los Angeles archdiocese didn't prove it would be directly affected by the lawsuit filed by the Davenport diocese. Burns also said the archdiocese could have the same issues resolved in any of the hundreds of other claims pending against it in state courts.

"Interveners must demonstrate they have a stake in the outcome of the litigation, not merely an interest in having the litigation resolved in a particular way," the ruling states.

Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the Los Angeles archdiocese, said he did not intend to appeal the decision.

"We will participate as a friend of the court and offer whatever assistance we can, but we will not be a party to the suit," he said.

If the Davenport lawsuit is ultimately successful and the law is overturned, more than 800 claims against dioceses statewide could be thrown out. That would include nearly 500 in Los Angeles. In some of the lawsuits, the alleged abuse occurred 70 years ago.

In July, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw tentatively ruled that the law was constitutional and allowed six of the 160 lawsuits pending against Northern California dioceses to proceed.

The case against the Davenport diocese involves an Iowa priest accused of molesting a boy while on vacation in San Diego in the 1960s.

James Janssen, who spent much of his nearly 40-year career at parishes in eastern Iowa before retiring in 1990, is a defendant in eight lawsuits filed by men claiming they were abused. He has denied the allegations in court filings.

On Thursday, the Davenport diocese announced that Pope John Paul II had defrocked him in July. Janssen is one of five priests the Davenport diocese had asked the Vatican to defrock.

Raymond Boucher, the lawyer representing the victim who filed the lawsuit against the Davenport diocese, said his client's trial would likely start in early 2005.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Archdiocese Cardinal Roger Mahony said in a newspaper interview that the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was not the cross he would have chosen to bear.

But he told The Los Angeles Times that he realizes healing both victims and the church is now one of his top priorities.

The cardinal and Hennigan made clear, however, that the church would not abandon its legal challenges. They vowed to appeal a recent court ruling that the archdiocese turn over the confidential records of two former priests to Los Angeles prosecutors.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.