A clergy-abuse survivor is putting his state on notice, suing all of California’s 12 Catholic bishops and naming more than two dozen accused sexual-predator priests in an effort to compel church officials to be more transparent.
In a complaint filed in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Thomas Emens alleged a “civil conspiracy” among clergy officials to cover up sexual assault within the church, claiming they avoided conflict by simply moving accused priests to other parishes across the country.
“This lawsuit is really the only opportunity I have at this time to find justice not just for myself to bring all the victims that are in the shadows out and to help them moving forward,” Emens said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “This lawsuit is also to get the clerics at the top to come clean and tell the truth.”
Emens alleged both at the news conference and lawsuit—that he was sexually abused for two years starting in 1978, when he was 10 years old, at the hands of Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan.
“He was a very, very close family friend,” Emens said. “I remember birthday parties with him. I remember picnics with him.”
Mohan, who is now deceased, was transferred from Chicago to St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in the early 1970s, the complaint stated, explaining why the suit also names the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The “nuisance lawsuit” seeks to force church officials to reveal the names of all priests accused of child sexual misconduct as well as their detailed history of alleged assault and their last-known address. This request follows the dioceses of San Jose and San Diego recent announcements that they will independently release this information.
The hope, according to Jeff Anderson, Emen’s lawyer, is that the documents would “reveal a playbook among bishops” and a cover-up effort to protect offending clergy members.
Since criminal charges are not feasible, given the allegations fall outside California's statute of limitations, the lawsuit took a different route by evoking the state’s nuisance law, which focuses on behavior that negatively affects a community.
This lawsuit is the latest fallout from a harrowing Pennsylvania grand-jury report released in August that revealed rampant clergy abuse within the Catholic Church, in which 300 “predator priests” allegedly abused more than 1,000 victims over seven decades.
The 1,356-page report only exposed rampant clergy abuse within the state, but pointed to a wider national issue.
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops, the governing body of state’s 12 dioceses, declined to directly address the lawsuit but told The Daily Beast that “positive steps [have been] taken by California dioceses over the past 15 years to protect children and young people from abuse.”
“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,” a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In addition to Tuesday’s lawsuit, Emens’ lawyer released a 120-page report on sexual abuse on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, containing information on more than 300 offenders and detailing how 35 accused clergy members were moved to different dioceses.
After 2003, the lawsuit stated, a new California law issued a new one-year window for past sexual-abuse victims to file civil claims. The law brought almost 500 claims against 220 priests from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles alone, forcing a number of dioceses to acknowledge the number of accused priests, and issue more than $660 million in payouts.
The lawsuit alleged that while Los Angeles Archdiocese publicly said 244 priests were involved in sexual misconduct allegations, and released a list of 211 named clerics, it later changed the number to only 122 alleged clergy abusers. A previous lawsuit accused the archdiocese of purposefully altering this information.
Similar to the allegation against Los Angeles, the complaint claimed both the Oakland Diocese and the San Jose Diocese also fudged their numbers.
While the Oakland Diocese had no immediate comment on Wednesday, the San Jose Diocese told The Daily Beast on Wednesday they plan to release a detailed list of the names and the status “of every priest who has already been found to be credibly accused of abusing minors” by mid-October.
The diocese also added that, starting next month, it will independently investigate how it handled abuse complaints and will release those findings once complete.