In 2019, a survivor of priest abuse settled his lawsuit against the Los Angeles Archdiocese. He received $1.9 million dollars. It was the first child sexual abuse settlement awarded after a new California law, Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), came into effect. Known as the California Child Victims Act (CVA), AB 218 suspends the statute of limitations for all civil actions until January 1, 2023.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs are determined at the state level and vary based on the crime.
Altar Boy Sexually Abused by Father Lovell
Between 1982 and 1984, Richard Barrios served as an altar boy at San Gabriel Mission Church. During this time, Barrios suffered repeated sexual abuse by Father Lawrence Lovell, commonly referred to as Father Larry. Lovell began abusing Barrios when he was about 9 years old. The abuse continued until Lovell was transferred to the Diocese of Phoenix in 1984.
Barrios reported his abuse to Catholic Church officials as a teenager. He received six months of paid therapy to help him heal. Barrios later learned Lovell had abused other young boys at San Gabriel. He also found a redacted account of his own report to the church circulating online. By then, Barrios was too old to sue the Catholic Church for damages under California law. However, when the CVA went into effect on January 1, 2020, victims like Barrio received a second chance for legal justice.
How the California Child Victims Act Helps Sex Abuse Survivors Seek Legal Justice
The CVA created a three-year “look back” window. During this window, the legal deadline for civil actions of child sexual abuse is suspended. Thus, Barrios could now bring civil actions against Lovell and the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Only three weeks after CVA went into effect, Barrios settled his case against the Los Angeles Archdiocese for $1.9 million.
Under the previous California law, many survivors of child sexual abuse could only pursue civil legal action until the age of 26. However, the nature of these cases can make that time frame an obstacle for survivors.
Why Survivors of Sexual Abuse Need More Time to File
According to ChildUSA, about one-third of victims report sexual abuse while they are still children. Another one-third of child sex abuse victims do not acknowledge the abuse until much later in their lives. The remaining third of victims never report the abuse.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse often experience loneliness and shame. Even when they’ve confided in a parent, they may not want anyone else to learn about what they have endured. Teens and young adults often fail to understand the severity of the problems they may face later in adulthood. In fact, many survivors only begin to realize what happened to them around age 50.
The disconnect between when survivors come to terms with the abuse they suffered and California’s previous legal deadline often prevented justice. As a result, the abusers and the people who covered up the abuse often avoided liability.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the CVA’s author, put it this way, “The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous…[m]ore and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now.”
The Healing Effect of Long-denied Justice
For many victims, the most important outcome of litigation is to see the abusers and their enablers take responsibility for the abuse. Victims often want accountability. They want acknowledgment that what happened to them should not have happened to anyone. Even today, it is not always clear if the Church is really focused on victims.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Barrios struggled with depression and bipolar disorder for years. After receiving the $1.9 million dollar settlement Barrios said, “he finally felt at peace and hoped other potential victims would come forward too.”
“We don’t have to be in the shadows, and we don’t have to hide in our rooms anymore. We can look outside and see sunshine.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez District 80. (2019, October 13). Governor Signs Lorena Gonzalez Bill to Empower Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors.
ChildUSA. (N.D.) Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitation.
Green, E. (2019, February 14). Why Does the Catholic Church Keep Failing on Sexual Abuse? The Atlantic.
Shalby, C. (2020, January 30). L.A. Archdiocese settles priest abuse case for $1.9 million. Los Angeles Times.
Yoon-Hendricks, A. (2019, October 14). New California law gives victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits. The Sacramento Bee.
(2020, January 28). First Catholic Diocese child sex abuse case settled since passing of new law. 23ABC News.