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Survivor sues Catholic dioceses over abuse coverup

A Ventura County man who says he was molested by a priest four decades ago sued 10 of California’s 11 Roman Catholic dioceses Tuesday, alleging they joined in a coverup of priests’ abuse of children.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Thomas Emens, 50, of Camarillo, asks for a court order requiring the dioceses to release the names and alleged history of abuse of all priests accused of molesting children.

San Francisco Bay Area dioceses named as defendants include the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the dioceses of Santa Rosa, Oakland, San Jose and Monterey.

The California Catholic Conference, a policy-making body made up of California bishops, is also named, along with all other California dioceses except the Diocese of Stockton.

Michael Reck, a lawyer for Emens, said:

“The most important reason for filing this lawsuit is to force the dioceses to disclose what they knew and when they knew it about each of the offenders. … The identification of the offenders will allow survivors to heal and will allow children to be protected.”

Emens, who now works for a local university, alleges he was a victim of “unpermitted sexual contact” by Monsignor Thomas Mohan at his parish in Anaheim between 1978 and 1980, when Emens was 10 to 12 years old.

Mohan died in 2002 at the age of 92. The Archdiocese of Chicago, where Mohan worked from 1938 to 1972, is also a defendant.

The lawsuit includes claims of civil conspiracy, public nuisance and private nuisance. It alleges the dioceses and the bishops’ conference concealed sexual assaults and the offenders’ identities, protected priests from prosecution and transferred them to new locations without warning parishioners or the public.

In addition to asking for disclosure of the identities of those accused, the lawsuit asks for a court order requiring the dioceses to stop illegal practices and develop better policies to protect children.

Reck said his law firm has previously used the unusual public nuisance claim in abuse lawsuits in Minnesota and New York and believes it is an appropriate legal doctrine:

“It is the claim that applies to ongoing harm and ongoing danger to the public. What stops it is an order from the court.”

Reck said the Diocese of Stockton was not included in the lawsuit because it recently went through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to reorganize its finances to deal with abuse lawsuits, and would have been more complicated to sue.

The California Catholic Conference issued a statement that did not address the lawsuit directly, but maintained that the dioceses took strong steps to protect children beginning in 2003:

“Every diocese in California has instituted fingerprinting and background checks for priests, staff and any volunteers working around children and young people. All of them offer Safe Environment programs to train students and staff in identifying and preventing abuse. … Every diocese has adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ standard to make sure no one with a credible accusation of abusing children is allowed to function as a priest. … Allegations of abuse have been rare since 2003, responded to and uniformly reported, but we know we can never be complacent.”

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