On Monday, an unprecedented event of enormous significance happened in a courtroom at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Cardinal Roger Mahony signed a historic $660-million settlement with more than 500 plaintiffs who alleged that they had suffered sexual abuse in the hands of Roman Catholic priests who served parishes that come under the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
We heard the sound bytes on radio. We read pages and pages of analysis in newspapers and on the Internet in the days leading to the formalizing of this agreement. We saw powerful reactions from victims on television. Hallelujah! We even heard an apology from Cardinal Mahony to the victims who have undergone nothing short of psychological and emotional torture for years if not decades and suffered in silence for most of that time.
The settlement is the largest payout by a diocese, says a news article in the Los Angeles Times’ Web site. But the victims who fought the Roman Catholic Church for five years will tell you that no amount of money or apologies can right the horrendous wrongs these men have done to innocent little children as well as women who trusted and respected these so-called spiritual leaders. But the money is the lowest penalty the diocese can pay to compensate the victims for what they have suffered, the memories and effects of which they will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives.
Yet, the biggest implication of this settlement, far more valuable than the money is the fact that it is a vindication for the victims. It is an admission by the Roman Catholic Church of their wrongdoing. It is confirmation, as one of the attorneys for the victims said, that “they did nothing wrong – it was not their fault.”
Having represented victims of clergy abuse, I know very well that many victims blame themselves for the abuse they endured – and that’s what tortures them and eats them up from within. It’s that sense of guilt that results in their silent suffering, the hiding from the truth, the shame of it all. In many media interviews over the last two days, I heard victims say the same as our clients have said, that the abuse completely messed up their lives; that they became alcoholics, resorted to drug abuse and struggled to come to terms with their sexual identity. Most victims had failed marriages. How does anybody put a price on this type of suffering?
Cardinal Mahony can apologize a million times, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that he protected sex predators and failed to protect his own flock. I’m very pleased, however, for the victims who have found some closure after battling their own feelings for decades and then fighting the diocese for years. My prayers and best wishes for their bright and prosperous future!
Since this settlement has been made public I have been in communication with an exceptionally large number of abuse victims seeking legal assistance. For many of them, the time to take legal action has passed to take legal action against the Catholic Church. They were too afraid to face what happened, to come forward. Many were afraid of facing their abuser. By delaying coming forward they gave up the chance to hold their wrongdoers accountable and obtain their just compensation. Compensation that can help with putting their lives back together.
Today I spoke at length to a man who had been abused by a priest from the age of 14 to 17. He had hidden away the experience in the deepest recesses of his mind. When he saw victims telling their stories on television this week, it all came rushing back to him.
Since witnessing the victims speaking on television he has nearly bitten his finger nails to the beds, he can’t sleep, he trebles constantly and he is afraid. He is afraid to face what happened to him, and yes, he is blaming himself for what was done to him. After our discussion he has chosen to stand up to the Catholic Church with our help and to seek additional help to deal with the issues in his life that he now sees stem from his sexual abuse experience perpetrated by a Priest that he trusted.
In most situations a person sexually abused before the age of 18 has until their 26th birthday to file a lawsuit. A person who was abused as a child and who has, as the man I spoke with today, repressed the abuse events, has three years from the time they remember the abuse to file a lawsuit. Don’t guess or speculate about when your statute of limitation expires, get a consultation with an attorney who can help you. Once your time to file has passed, you rights terminate. Don’t wait. Get a consultation immediately.
If you or a loved one has suffered abuse in the hands of a Catholic priest, call me, John Bisnar of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, 800-956-0123 for a free, completely confidential and understanding consultation.