Two men who claim they were abused by a priest at a church camp several decades ago sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa and the camp in Sonoma County Superior Court on Monday.
The lawsuits by the two unidentified victims was made possible by a new California law, A.B. 218 of 2019, which opened a three-year window for childhood sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits regardless of when the molestation occurred.
The two men, who are now 56 and 49 years old, allege they were abused beginning at age 10 or 11 by Gary Timmons, a now-defrocked priest who served four years in prison for child molestation and who has been named in several previous lawsuits.
Both plaintiffs allege they were abused by Timmons at Camp St. Michael in Mendocino County, a church youth camp founded by Timmons. One plaintiff alleges he was also abused by Timmons in Rohnert Park.
The civil lawsuits claim the diocese and camp were negligent in giving Timmons “years of continuous secluded access to minor children” when they allegedly knew or had reason to know that Timmons had engaged in illegal sexual conduct with children in the past.
The lawsuits also include a second claim of negligence for alleged failure to supervise and protect the victims. The lawsuits ask for financial compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages.
They also ask for a tripling of the damage compensation, which is allowed under the new law in cases where an effort to hide evidence of child sexual abuse is proved. Timmons was previously listed by the diocese as one of more than 40 priests connected with the diocese who have been accused of having sexually abused children during the past 50 years.
In a statement Monday, Bishop of Santa Rosa Robert Vasa said:
“I want, first of all, to express my sincere sorrow that so many have been subjected to the evil actions of deacons, priests and bishops.
“Thus, I apologize again, especially to any who have been subjected to injury at the hands of the clergy named.”
Vasa said the diocese anticipated lawsuits and that the harm done by clergy members “must be faced and responded to” even as the Church continues to seek to help victims with the healing process.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Monday’s pair of lawsuits may be the first of multiple cases to be filed under the new law against the diocese concerning alleged abuse by Timmons.