Is the Catholic Church Subverting Civil Law to Avoid Compensating Victims?

Lafayette Diocese,
Our attorney Kristi Schubert was interviewed by the Society of St. Peter Damian (SSPD) for their feature, “Is the Diocese of Lafayette Flouting Civil Law to Avoid Compensating Victims?”

As we have mentioned, Louisiana passed a new law, H.B. 492, that went into effect August 1, 2021. This new law extends the state’s statute of limitations and provides a three-year window for survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil claims, even if the claim was previously time-barred.

Louisiana Catholic Bishops have been publicly opposed to the passage of this law for many years and now the Lafayette Diocese, and other Louisiana dioceses, are actively fighting the new law in court. The SSPD article features the pleading recently filed by the Diocese of Lafayette in a case the Lamothe Law Firm filed against the Lafayette Diocese under the look back window. In response to the lawsuit, the Diocese filed a Peremptory Exception of Prescription which claims, contrary to the clear intent of the new law, that the look back window “only applies to cases where the abuse occurred in 1992 or later. The Diocese arising under and authorized by the earlier statute being amended.” The Diocese’s reasoning for this is that Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2800.9 (the statute that was amended this year to provide a look back window), was not created until 1993 so all claims that became time barred before its creation cannot benefit from the newly created look back window. Representative Jason Hughes, who introduced HB492 this year, frequently mentioned on the House floor that one of the reasons for amending the law was because the average age that child sex abuse survivors first come forward is 52 years old. If the law were applied the way the Diocese suggests, the oldest person whose claim would be revived under the look back window would be 46 years old today.

Kristi Schubert explains further: “The legislative history shows that Representative Jason Hughes… described the look-back window as apply(ing) to “any victim” whose case is already prescribed. When Representative Hughes was asked by Representative Ivey whether this would apply to any victim “regardless of age,” Representative Hughes answered in the affirmative. It is troubling that the Diocese of Lafayette would try to shield themselves from responsibility by arguing that the legislature never intended to revive claims that arose prior to 1992. Under their interpretation of the law, only a small portion of sexual abuse survivors would be eligible to file suit under the look-back window.”

Ms. Schubert states, “The Church has always had the option of simply renouncing prescription and acknowledging their obligation to compensate the survivors of sexual abuse. They have made a purposeful choice not to exercise that option.”

This lookback window provides a critical, and likely once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice in Louisiana, regardless of when their abuse occurred. For many survivors, the window will be their only chance to ever seek justice and hold their abusers and the institutions that enabled their abuse accountable.

If you or a loved one was sexually abused as a child, please call Lamothe Law Firm today for a confidential consultation to discuss your situation. We are committed to providing supportive, sensitive representation to survivors.

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