Lawsuit accuses Calif. bishops of sex abuse cover-up

California flag Credit Joseph Sohm Shutterstock CNA The flag of California. / Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.

A lawsuit in California is accusing bishops from all of the state's dioceses, as well as the California Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Chicago, of covering up sexual abuse.

Jeff Anderson and Associates, a Los Angeles based organization that advocates for alleged victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests, filed the lawsuit Oct. 1.

The plaintiff, Thomas Emens, alleges he was abused for two years in the 1970s, starting at age 10. Attorneys for the plaintiff claim to have uncovered, by examining public documents, more than 300 priests from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who are alleged offenders.

The plaintiff is requesting that each diocese "publicly release the names of all agents, including priests, accused of child molestation, each agent's history of abuse, each such agent's pattern of grooming and sexual behavior, and his or her last known address," according to the lawsuit.

The California Catholic Conference released a statement Oct. 4 responding to the lawsuit, saying that the lawsuit and report overlook the positive steps that all California dioceses have taken since 2003 to mitigate abuse, including the "zero tolerance" standard to make sure no one with a credible accusation of abusing children is allowed to function as a priest, as well as a lay-led Independent Review Board to advise bishops on whether an accused priest should be allowed to return to ministry.

The conference also pointed out that information on all of the alleged accused priests that Jeff Anderson attorneys uncovered was publicly available.

"Allegations of abuse have been rare since 2003, responded to and uniformly reported, but we know we can never be complacent," the statement read. "The twelve dioceses of California will never waver in their commitment to protect young people."

The Diocese of San Bernardino released a list Oct. 8 of 34 priests credibly accused of abuse in recent decades. The local bishop has apologized to victims and said the failure to protect children has led to "new awareness" about the "terrible scourge" of sex abuse.

Six of the priests on that list have been convicted in criminal court. All but one priest on the list have been dismissed from the clerical state, permanently banned from ministry in the diocese, or have died.

The Diocese of Oakland has announced plans to release an analogous list in the coming weeks.

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