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LOS ANGELES — Tony Quarry suppressed his memories of being abused by a Roman Catholic priest for nearly 30 years and decided to sue only after finding out that his five brothers were molested by the same man – just to discover that it was too late.
The state’s high court ultimately tossed out the brothers’ lawsuit because they missed a special legal window that allowed victims to sue over abuse claims decades after the fact. Their plight, however, has inspired new sex abuse legislation in California a decade after a similar bill cost the church hundreds of millions in civil settlements.
“I still believed in the tooth fairy when these things happened to me,” Quarry, 51, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a good thing for these other people to have the opportunity to step forward.”
Like the previous law, Senate Bill 131 would permit many victims who would otherwise be unable to file a civil suit due to time and age restrictions – like the Quarry brothers – to sue their abuser’s employer in civil court.
The proposed law would lift the statute of limitations for one year for the group of alleged victims who were 26 and older and missed the previous deadline.
The Catholic Church did not fight the 2002 bill that opened the flood gates for hundreds of victims and led to $1.2 billion in settlements from dioceses statewide, including $660 million in Los Angeles alone. This time, however, the church is fighting hard against the proposed legislation – from the pews to lobbyists.
The 2002 law led to settlements that also forced the Los Angeles archdiocese to make public earlier this year thousands of pages of confidential files kept on priests accused or suspected of abuse.
The California Council of Nonprofit Organization, a group affiliated with the California Catholic Conference, has spent more than $70,000 to fight the bill, according to documents from the California Secretary of State’s office. The Catholic Church and private organizations have called the bill a step backward, and charge they have been unfairly targeted because the proposed legislation does not apply to public schools.
The bill, as authored by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, specifically targets only private institutions.
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