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Abuse victim sues California dioceses, asking for release of all records on predator priests

Abuse victim sues California dioceses, asking for release of all records on predator priests
Attorney Mike Reck speaks at a news conference at in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Anderson & Associates announced the filing of a nuisance lawsuit against Roman Catholic dioceses in California. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this year, Ventura County resident Tom Emens called a law firm that represents victims of clergy abuse and asked for help.

Emens had recently met someone who was molested by the same priest at St. Anthony Claret in Anaheim in the ’70s and ’80s. The 50-year-old had grappled with his own trauma for decades, but the weight of another person’s story sparked in Emens a new sense of purpose: to seek justice for what had been done to him and countless others.

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On Tuesday, Jeff Anderson & Associates of Minnesota filed a civil suit on behalf of Emens in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit calls for 11 California dioceses — all but Stockton — to release names of every clergy member accused of sexual misconduct, as well as private records documenting such abuse.

When a reporter asked why he wasn’t seeking monetary damages, Emens, now a marketing coordinator at California State University, Channel Islands, answered with swift conviction.

“The truth,” he said, “is far more valuable than any other money could ever be.”

The law firm also released a lengthy report on Tuesday that lists 307 clerics associated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — all of whom were already known predators — who have been accused of abuse. The report shows that in at least three dozen cases, the accused priests were reassigned to faraway parishes instead of being removed from ministry completely.

The firm said it was unable to confirm the whereabouts of nearly half of the accused clerics.

“This information came out in bits and pieces, making it seem like the problem isn’t as bad as it actually is,” said Mike Finnegan, a partner at Jeff Anderson & Associates. “We wanted people to see how big this problem is — and this is only in L.A.”

At least 36 of the priests named in the law firm’s report are not included in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ official list of accused clerics, known as the “Report to the People of God.” The archdiocese says it is reviewing the list — last updated in 2008 — to see whether any names should be added.

The People of God report was first published in 2004, after more than 500 abuse survivors brought claims against hundreds of priests during a special legislative window. Those cases led the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to pay a $660-million settlement in 2007.

In response to the suit, the archdiocese said that the report was based on information that was already made public; the 2007 settlement required the church to release priests’ confidential personnel files.

“The Archdiocese has acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures and mistakes in the way abuse cases were handled in the past and instituted a strict ‘zero tolerance’ policy to ensure that allegations of abuse would be reported to authorities,” the L.A. Archdiocese said in a statement.

Emens’ sweeping suit comes as a harsh spotlight is shining once again on decades of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church and the systemic effort to hide it.

Weeks after an August report in which a Pennsylvania grand jury detailed rampant sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy, and amid political pressure, some California dioceses — including those in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Jose and San Diego — have decided to release the names of priests accused of such crimes.

In its suit, Jeff Anderson & Associates contends that every California diocese should release such lists, as well as all documents related to alleged abuse. If the suit is successful, a judge will review those records and decide how to move forward with the information.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Joelle Casteix, an expert on clergy sex abuse and a victim herself, said survivors like Tom Emens are often silenced. This suit could help change that, she said.

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“For years he stood up screaming to the wind saying, ‘No one’s listening to me,’” Casteix said of Emens. “Today, the whole world is listening. And the bishops need to listen.”

10:45 a.m., October 3: This article was updated to clarify Tom Emens’ age.

This post was originally posted at 5:30 p.m. October 2.

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