Louisiana poised to create window for sex abuse lawsuits

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 11:20 am (CNA).

The Louisiana state legislature last week passed a bill allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse where the statute of limitations had already expired.

An amended version of the bill, House Bill 492, passed the state house on Thursday with 102 votes in favor, none against, and three abstentions. On Friday it was sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for signature.

The legislation creates a three-year period during which survivors of child sex abuse can file lawsuits against their alleged abuser, even when the statute of limitations would normally impede such lawsuits.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced in May 2020 that it was filing for bankruptcy. Thus, for survivors who filed claims against the archdiocese in bankruptcy courts by the March 1 deadline, they would not be able to sue in state courts. Survivors could still sue their alleged abusers who operated in religious orders or lay ministries, the New Orleans Advocate reported. The normal statute of limitations for lawsuits in child sex abuse cases is before the victim’s 28th birthday, the Advocate reported.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Hughes (D), spoke on the state house floor on Thursday, noting that his bill aims “to give some sense of justice and closure to children that have been malicious and heinously robbed of their innocence. Period.”

“They were robbed of their voice. I did not seek this bill; in many ways, it sought me. Members, all I am seeking is to give the voiceless some sense of justice. Some sense of closure,” Hughes stated.

The Advocate reported in March that the New Orleans archdiocese faces around 400 abuse claims in bankruptcy court.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans had cited the cost of sex abuse lawsuits as a significant factor in last year’s declaration of bankruptcy.

“The prospect of more abuse cases with associated prolonged and costly litigation, together with pressing ministerial needs and budget challenges, is simply not financially sustainable,” he said. “Additionally, the unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have added more financial hardships to an already difficult situation.”

In late 2018, the archdiocese released a list of priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The archdiocese said in 2020 that it had allotted more than $8 million for payment of abuse claims.

The archdiocese told CNA in October that it had been seeking to laicize priests who had been removed from ministry over accusations of child sex abuse, in the wake of the 2018 report. Under canon law, dioceses are obligated to provide for the needs of priests removed from ministry, such as for housing and health care. They are not obliged to provide for the needs of priests who have been laicized.


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