California abuse bill could still threaten Catholic Church
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

.- A California bill accused of unfairly targeting the Catholic Church and other groups with lawsuits on decades-old abuse charges has stalled in a committee, but the measure is still being considered.

On Aug. 14, Senate Bill 131 received six votes in the local Assembly Appropriations Committee, three short of the nine needed to advance to the assembly floor for a full vote. Four committee members voted against the bill while seven did not vote.

The committee, which primarily considers how much a bill will cost the state government, focused on whether new lawsuits would overburden the legal system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The group will consider the bill again next week.

California's Catholic bishops have asked Catholics to continue to contact their lawmakers in protest of the legislation.

The Wall Street Journal criticized the 2013 bill as a “nonprofit shakedown” that targets the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the “political enemies” of the legislature, in which Democrats hold a supermajority of seats.

Backers of the bill include the National Center for Victims of Crime, whose deputy executive director  Jeff Dion told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that it is “very important” for abusers “and the institutions that enabled them” to be held accountable.

However, S.B. 131 specifically exempts public schools and other government institutions from lawsuits.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Faithful Citizenship website said that this exemption means the bill “unfairly targets Catholic and private schools” and fails to protect the 92 percent of California children educated in public schools.

The archdiocese recently launched a new video to encourage opposition to the bill.

“The Catholic Church, and private institutions like the YMCA, YWCA, the California Council of Non-Profit Organizations, and other private and religious institutions in Los Angeles give hope to millions in need through countless charities, educational programs and social service agencies,” the video says.

“But Senate Bill 131 in the California State Legislature may threaten the ability of private schools and social service providers to continue to serve the poor, the hungry, the elderly, and the struggling in Los Angeles and throughout California.”

The bill passed the state Senate May 29 by a vote of 21-10. It passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a 6-2 vote.

If the California Assembly approves the bill, the legislation would lift the statute of limitations on child sex abuse lawsuits against private schools and private employers who failed to take action against sexual abuse by employees or volunteers. It would allow alleged victims younger than 31 to sue employers of abusers, extending present age limit for alleged victims from 26 years old.

The bill also provides a one-year window for victims older than this new age limit to sue alleged negligent employers. This could result in many new lawsuits concerning allegations dismissed after 2003, when the statute of limitations was previously suspended.

That suspension resulted in almost 1,000 claims against the Catholic Church in California, with legal awards totaling to $1.2 billion. Some of these claims dated back to the 1950s.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, in his June 21 column for The Tidings, said the proposed legislation “puts the social services and educational work of the Church at risk.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ social media and postcard campaign has helped encourage Californians to send more than 75,000 postcards and emails to representatives in opposition to the bill.

“The bishops of the California Catholic Conference believe it is urgent for all Catholics to act now,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The archdiocese’s new video can be seen at the link http://archla.org/131id. The archdiocese is providing more information about S.B. 131, including how to contact state legislators, through the website www.LAFaithfulCitizen.org.

Tags: Clerical lawsuits, Religious discrimination

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