Sexual Abuse Claims Denied For Lack of Evidence

Doe V. Salesian Society
January 29, 2008

The issue on the case stemmed from a sexual abuse complaint filed in 2003 by Gil 'Doe' and Richard 'Doe' against Richard Presenti, a priest belonging to Salesian Society, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church.

Gil and Richard charged that Richard Presenti had sexually abused them in1962 and 1972, respectively.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, pursuant to Code Civ. Proc. �340.1, which provided for a one-year revival period for previously time-barred claims. The revival period applied only to lawsuits against entities like the Society "if they knew, had reason to know, or were otherwise on notice of an employee's unlawful sexual conduct and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct in the future".

In reply to the lawsuit, the Society moved for summary judgment based on the following grounds:

  • That the complaint did not qualify under the revived limitations period of �340.1 because there was no evidence the Society had the requisite knowledge that Presenti had sexually abused anyone before he abused the plaintiffs.

  • evidence pointed out that no one witnessed either alleged incident

  • That Gil did not report what happened to him until 30 years later, in 1992.

  • that Richard reported his 1972 incident the day after it happened but the provincial who investigated the incident could recall no other allegations of sex abuse by a priest

  • The Society's files contained nothing concerning allegations of abuse against Presenti

  • That the plaintiffs admitted during discovery that they had no evidence to directly show that the Society knew or was on notice that Presenti was molesting young boys before Presenti allegedly abused them.
On the other hand, Gil and Richard countered with the following evidence:

  • Presenti lied to Society officials when asked about his alleged sexual abuse

  • the Society continued to employ Presenti even after Richard reported his incident in 1972

  • the records concerning Presenti included no record of Richard's 1972 report

  • The religious order did not document information concerning sexual abuse by its other clergy members, even in the case of another member of the Society whose abusive act was confirmed and resulted in criminal conviction.
Based on this, the plaintiffs argued that there was sufficient evidence to raise triable issues of fact on whether there had been earlier reports of abuse by Presenti which the Society knew but failed to document.

In ruling, however, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Society.

The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to the Society's awareness of Presenti's alleged propensity to abuse young boys.

Further, the appeals court held that the Society's failure to document Richard's 1972 report of abuse was insufficient to show that it had prior knowledge of the acts. Accordingly, the court held that without any evidence on prior reports, the plaintiffs' allegation against the Society was 'merely speculative'.

On the contrary, the court held that because the Society produced evidence that it received no reports of sexual misconduct committed by Presenti, and because the plaintiffs' contrary evidence did not raise an inference casting doubt on the credibility of that claim, the trial court therefore, did not err by granting summary judgment.

In ruling, the Second Appellate District therefore affirmed the judgment which held that the failure of a religious order to document a known allegation of sexual abuse by a priest did not support an inference that the order had received earlier similar reports which had also been undocumented and thus cannot support the facts of the allegations.


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