Communitas (IM)perfecta: How the Internal Organization of the Catholic Church Heightens Obstacles to Remedies for Clerical Sexual Assault Survivors and Recommendations to Remove These Obstacles

Communitas (IM)perfecta: How the Internal Organization of the Catholic Church Heightens Obstacles to Remedies for Clerical Sexual Assault Survivors and Recommendations to Remove These Obstacles

The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.

Nelson Mandela


Although the Catholic Church has been referred to as a “communitas perfecta” (the perfect community), more than 30,000 incidents of child clerical sexual abuse have been reported by survivors in the United States. The rampant sexual abuse of minors within the Church was first brought to the public’s attention after The Boston Globe’s investigative journalists, the Spotlight Team, uncovered the Church’s strategic conduct to cover up the actions of one abusive priest in the New England area. This cover-up conduct was not an anomaly. The Spotlight Team exposed the Church’s routine practices to keep abusive clergy active within the Church. By utilizing its inherently independent internal power, the Church created legal loopholes to avoid accountability, such as transferring accused clergy to other dioceses, using bankruptcy as a tool to avoid future litigation, and using survivor payouts as a means of final resolution. In addition to these legal loopholes, the Spotlight Team also brought attention to the general lack of protections and remedies available for survivors of clerical abuse. The complications of the ever-evolving relations between the Vatican, the Catholic Church, and the state of California have contributed to the collectively failing battle to protect children from predatorial clergy. This article seeks to end the cycle of childhood clerical sexual abuse by suggesting regulatory policies and possible solutions to remove survivors’ obstacles to remedies. By bringing clarity and awareness to the complex church and state relations, legal loopholes, and decades of vulnerability that survivors have endured, we can collectively hold the Vatican, the Catholic Church, and the state of California accountable for continuing the cycle of childhood clerical sexual abuse against minors.

I. Introduction

There was no possibility of living a functional life after that day. In search of an opportunity to better her and her children’s lives, a desperate single mother emigrated with her four children from Mexico to Tucson, Arizona without proper authorization in the early 1980s. Even though she struggled to support her family, she believed that God would bestow more blessings upon them. After all, her faith had already brought her this far. The mother thought her prayers had been finally answered when a visiting priest from the nearby Catholic Church took interest in her family. He was eager to help and began to bring the family groceries, launder their clothes, and even offered to look after one of the mother’s adolescent sons* to help him with his education. She could not turn down an opportunity that she thought would bless her son’s life. As a result, the priest had the boy live with him for eight months to help him with his education. A desperate woman with no support felt like it was a gift from God himself when a well-respected member of the community stepped in to not only help her family but act as a father figure to her children.

Unbeknownst to the mother, the priest had begun grooming and sexually abusing her son. The priest continued to bless the family with groceries and favors and bought the son his first pair of new shoes and his first serving of fast food. While the mother thought she was being rewarded for her faith, the priest was manipulating the family and secretly threatening the son with deportation if he told anyone about the sexual abuse. The priest continued to violate her son for almost two years, but the son remained tight-lipped about the abuse he endured as an undocumented 12-year-old boy and held onto this pain for nearly two decades. In those nineteen years, the son suppressed feelings of immense guilt and shame, which inadvertently caused him to cope with that pain by physically and emotionally abusing others, including his own children later in life.

Finally, in the early 2000s after encouragement from his family, the son gathered the courage to press charges against his abuser.1 While finally telling authorities about the abuse provided some remedy for his suffering—he received $60,0002 and his abuser was sentenced to nine-and-a-half-years-in prison3—it was not enough to remedy the irreversible damage the priest created by manipulating an undocumented immigrant family in need to satisfy his predatorial desires. The son’s life became irreparable the very day the abuses began. Sadly, the son’s story is not a rare tragedy. Rather, it is one of more than 30,000 reported incidents of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy since 1950.4 Many survivors still suffer in silence or cannot receive the remedies the son did for various reasons whether it be a particular state’s statute of limitations or the Catholic Church’s failure to follow through with sexual abuse allegations. Part I discusses the evolution of religion and the principles of Catholicism that influenced sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Part I also covers California’s civil and criminal procedures and statutes of limitations for reporting abuse, as well as Pope Francis’s amendments to the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law, meant to encourage the investigation and punishment of clerical sexual abuse.

Part II examines the current remedies available for clerical sexual abuse survivors in California and the obstacles survivors face when seeking legal remedies with a focus on the legal loopholes the Church utilizes to avoid accountability. These obstacles include transferring accused clergy to other dioceses, using bankruptcy as a tool to avoid large survivor payouts, using survivor payouts as a means of final resolution, using its internal functionality to conceal abusive clergy, and benefitting from the difficulties California’s civil and criminal statutes of limitations pose for survivors. Part II also addresses the associated complications with various clerical states and how this allows predatorial abuse to continue beyond the Church.

Part III suggests recommendations to address survivors’ obstacles to remedies and the continuous failure of protecting minors from predatory clergy to break the cycle of abuse. The Catholic Church’s autonomous power is derived from the First Amendment, which allows the Church to internally create and manage its own rules and processes without regulation or oversight from the state or federal governments. However, since the Ninth Circuit recognizes a child’s constitutional right to bodily integrity,5 the Church should be forced to address the lack of transparency with the internal reporting of clerical sexual abuse. Given the current clerical loopholes and variety of statute of limitations among the states, Part III argues that (1) California should follow in the footsteps of other states by eliminating statutes of limitations for all felony sex crimes; and (2) the Catholic Church should be required to create uniformity across all 194 archdioceses/dioceses, which includes creating standardized policies and definitions in addition to creating and maintaining a centralized public database of accused, transferred, and laicized clergy.

A. The Historical Background of Catholicism in the Americas and the Beginnings of Clerical Sexual Abuse

The first religious practices can be traced back to Neanderthalic burial rituals, which support the idea that believing in a higher being or “god” is “hard-wired into the anatomy of the brain.” However, this belief was not limited to only one god as humans from all ages have worshiped many gods and goddesses simultaneously.7 The belief in one true god and acceptable practices to worship such god was spread nearly two thousand years ago by three prominent prophets: Jesus Christ (Christianity), Moses (Judaism), and Mohammed (Islam).8 Constantine I of the Roman Empire embraced Christianity by converting, which gradually became the chosen faith of European rulers.9 In 1054 during the Great Schism,10 Christianity’s two largest doctrinal groups formed: Orthodox Catholic Church (Greek/Eastern) and Roman Catholic Church (Latin/Western).11 In the meantime at the command of Jesus, the Church and its followers were spreading the word of God by baptizing and converting others to absolve them of sin.12 The Catholic Church has called itself a “communitas perfecta”—the perfect community undertaking the mission of humanity’s salvation from sin.13

Although the Bible instructs God’s disciples to baptize all nations to unite believers with Jesus,14 conversion quickly became a political-military tool in the colonization and exploitation of the Americas— including its resources and its native peoples.15 While several European nations fought for control of this new land filled with untapped resources, expansion by any nation was reliant upon the labor and peaceful following of Native Americans.16 Spain’s desire for control of the Americas fueled its missionary era for nearly two hundred years wherein the Spanish hoped to create self-sustaining communities that were subjects of the Spanish Crown.17 This is what we know as the modern-day mission systems in present-day Florida, Texas, and California, among other states.18 After missionaries flooded into the Americas, Catholicism became the largest denomination in the United States by 1850 and it remains the largest denomination to this day.19

i. Organization of Catholic Clergy, Tucson and Los Angeles, and Ordination Requirements

In the U.S. today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (hereinafter “USCCB”) manages the 194 archdioceses/dioceses (territorial divisions of Roman Catholic Church) and its assigned priests.20 In California, there are fourteen Catholic dioceses and eparchies (Eastern Church’s equivalent counterpart).21 The largest diocese in California is the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which encompasses the regions of Los Angeles, San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Pedro, and Santa Barbara.22 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles includes more than 250 individual parishes, 50 high schools, and 200 elementary schools.23 In total, this translates to more than 70,000 enrolled students and about 4.3 million individual Catholics in this diocese alone.24 Each region is assigned an auxiliary bishop that reports to the archbishop.25 In Arizona, there are three dioceses and eparchs.26 The Diocese of Tucson covers nine counties and accounts for more than 300,000 Roman Catholics, which includes 78 parishes and 25 Catholic schools.27

Catholic clergy are organized in a general hierarchy (in order of importance and power): the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons.28 To become a deacon, priest, or bishop, a man must be ordained, which requires participation in a priestly formation program for five to thirteen years depending upon the seminary attended and the individual’s background.29 The three levels of seminary are high school, college (pre-theology), and theology.30 Seminaries focus on human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral formation, which involves academic coursework, spiritual activities, and practical learning.31 To be admitted into seminary, the candidate must take part in psychological evaluations and criminal background checks32 “to provide greater clarity about an applicant.”33 While outside professionals in the field of psychology conduct the evaluations,34 they should be “well versed [sic] in and supportive of the Church’s expectations of candidates for the priesthood, especially expectations concerning celibacy and permanence of commitment.”35 Certain issues uncovered during the psychological evaluations may affect a candidate’s admission and “any evidence of criminal sexual activity with a minor or any inclination toward such activity” automatically disqualifies the candidate.36 There are guidelines for suggested components of psychological evaluations; however, the evaluation guidelines used and the decision to admit a candidate ultimately lie with bishops and religious superiors of the seminary.37

As a part of ordination into diocesan priesthood, the candidate takes a promise of obedience and celibacy.38 Celibacy is to “live chastely in the unmarried state” or to refrain from marriage and any sexual activity.39 The idea of clerical celibacy was first introduced in 304 C.E., and the Church reaffirmed its support of celibacy in the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, which continues to prevail as an integral principle of priesthood.40 Celibacy is merely a regulation within the Church, meaning that the pope has the power to end or alter the practice at any time, unlike dogmas, which are immutable principles that cannot be changed by papal decree.41 Some argue that the Church’s adoption of celibacy was a way to distinguish clergy as a special group separate from the sinful world.42 In contrast, others argue that the adoption of celibacy was a strategic move by the Church to establish its authority over the kingship because if the Church could control a person’s sexual activity, it could control his money, employment, and benefice43 (property and income granted to clergy in return for their service).44 In fact, most disputes within the Church usually involve issues of ownership of parish property and the hiring and dismissal of parish clergy.45

ii. The Boston Glove Revelations

Although the Bible emphasizes caring for our children46 and condemns sexual perversion,47 clerical sexual abuse among the Catholic Church has always existed along with “the tendency of the hierarchy to protect priests, the tendency to cover reports in deep secrecy and the massive denial about the seriousness of the problem.”48 In 2002, the Boston Globe (American daily newspaper) jolted the public when their investigative journalists, the Spotlight Team, exposed the Church’s elaborate cover-ups to safeguard accused predatorial priests, including John Geoghan.49 During his thirty-year tenure and several church assignments in the Greater Boston Area, Mr. Geoghan sexually abused more than 130 individuals during their childhoods, mostly elementary-aged boys, starting the 1970s.50 The archdiocese and Mr. Geoghan’s supervising cardinal, Bernard Law, knew of the accusations against Mr. Geoghan and even had substantial evidence of the abuses, yet Mr. Law chose to turn a blind eye to the situation.51 Mr. Geoghan was then transferred to another parish where he managed youth groups and the church soon received more complaints about his inappropriate behaviors.52 He was eventually forced into taking sick leave and was sent to two institutions for sexually abusive clergy which deemed Mr. Geoghan to be “fully recovered” after one month of treatment.53 Despite these alarming accusations, he was allowed to return to the same parish where he continued to abuse children for another three years.54 Mr. Geoghan was at last defrocked (removed from priesthood) in 1998.55 For the first time, the public was finally given a glimpse into Church’s internal issues and dark actions it worked so tirelessly to conceal. As a result, these revelations arguably began a mass awakening of clerical sexual misconduct revelations worldwide.

iii. The USCCB’s Response and the John Jay Study Results

After the Boston Globe revelations, the USCCB created the Charter for the Protection of Young People to address the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy by detailing directives for healing, reconciliation, and prevention of future abuse.56 The Charter mandated the creation of three bodies: (1) Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, (2) National Review Board, and (3) Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.57 The Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People is composed of appointed representatives who advise USCCB on “all matters related to child and youth protection,” such the oversight of the development of pertinent plans and programs responsible for the “comprehensive planning and recommendations concerning child and youth protection.”58 The National Review Board is a committee of appointed non-clergy who oversee the implementation of the annual report of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection in each diocese or eparchy59 (Orthodox Catholic church territorial divisions).60 The Secretariat of Child and Youth Prevention is a committee of bishops that provides “a resource for dioceses/eparchies for implementing safe environment programs and for suggesting training and development of diocesan personnel responsible for child and youth protection programs.”61 Furthermore, the Church created The Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, (hereinafter “Essential Norms”), which are Church laws addressing sexual abuse of minors for dioceses of the United States.62

Figure 1: John Jay Coll. of Crim. Just., The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002 (2004).

In the addition to the creation of these bodies, the USCCB commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study the issue of clerical sexual abuse, which was completed in 2004.63 The report revealed that there were 10,667 reported incidents of sexual abuse of minors by a Catholic priest or deacon from 1950-2002 in the United States.64 Since the study was based on data from reports made to churches, the statistics are likely skewed and the number of survivors is likely higher than the report suggests.65 Of the total survivors, 80.9% were male66 and 78.6% lived in a two-parent home.67 Touching under the child’s clothes was the most common alleged act68 and 71% of survivors were abused more than once.69 The study did not account for the race or ethnicity of survivors. A total of 4,392 priests were accused of abuse and 143 (3.2%) priests had allegations in more than one diocese.70 While 15% of priests accused of abused were reported to authorities by the survivor, about 9% of priests were reported by the individual dioceses.71 Of the total 1,021 of police reports, 939 reports resulted in a police investigation and 384 priests were charged with a criminal offense.72 A total of 284 priests were convicted with 161 being jailed or imprisoned, 122 assigned to probation, and two registering as sex offenders.73 In short, out of 4,392 accused priests,74 only 284 received convictions75 (about 6.5%). Since 2003, the USCCB has published an Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that details that year’s total childhood sexual assault allegations across the U.S.76 While there are more than 30,000 clerical child sexual assault victims,77 and counting, the USCCB claims to be committed to tackling the issue of clerical sexual abuse by creating safe environments and strengthening spirituality of chastity, as outlined in its 2021-2024 Strategic Plan.78

iv. The Vatican’s Response

As the Boston Globe revelations shook the Catholic community in 2002, Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)79 only addressed the issue of clerical sexual abuse in the United States in a few speeches that reminded Catholics to keep their faith strong and remain close to their priests and bishops.80 His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013),81 began the process to create a commission focused on the protection of children,82 as sexual abuse scandals began emerging from the Roman Catholic Churches in other countries, including Ireland.83 The current pope, Pope Francis, has been outspoken about his efforts to address this issue of clerical sexual abuse and its resulting cover-ups. In 2014, Pope Francis created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,84 which acts as an advisory body to the Pope composed of eighteen members who are “persons of good and proven reputation” appointed by the Pope.85 The Committee held a summit at the Vatican entitled “The Protection of Minors in the Church” February 21-24, 2019,86 where the Committee members collaborated to rearchitect guidelines and protocols for handling accusations of clerical sexual abuse and preventions for future abuse.87 As a result on May 7, 2019, Pope Francis issued the “You are the Light of the World” motu propio, which sets forth procedures for reporting abuse to the Church and how the Church should handle such reports and investigations of allegations.88 These procedures were temporarily approved for three years and are set to expire June 1, 2022.89 However, these procedural changes and more in-depth rules have been permanently adopted into Pope Francis’s revision of Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, effective on December 8, 2021.90

v. Revisions to Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church

In the Church, canon law is the universal code of governing laws and rules.91 A singular text of canon law was first promulgated by Benedict XV in 1917, but it was later replaced by the code of 1983 following the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council.92 Although these previous versions of the code addressed the process for handling clerical sexual abuse, it was not stringent enough to hold clergy accountable.93 Book VI, which details the Church’s penal code, was revised to address the Church’s historically sporadic enforcement, including investigation and punishment of clerical sexual abuse.94

            One of the most dramatic changes to Book VI states that lay Church members, including anyone who performs a function in the Church from office assistants to any faithful who “enjoys a dignity,” such as Catholic school faculty and lay parishioners, can now be punished for actions like sexual abuse.95 These revisions also now require bishops and superiors to initiate the Church’s penal processes and impose punishments even for relatively minor offenses,96 whereas the prior code ultimately left the use of the penal processes up to the judgment of bishops and superiors.97 Additionally, prescription (the Church’s statute of limitations) has changed to where criminal action for most crimes must be taken within three years from the day the offense was committed or the day such offenses stopped.98 However, certain crimes have longer periods of prescription depending on the perpetrator.99 For example, the grooming and sexual abuse of minors by a cleric has a prescription of twenty years but only a prescription of seven years for abuse by other members of the Church.100 Furthermore, Book VI states that a person who uses their position of authority to commit a canonical crime should be punished more seriously.101 While Pope Francis tried to address the long-standing issue of bishops not enforcing penal sanctions by revising the code, the power to report crimes such as sexual abuse and impose punishments still lies in the hands of bishops and higher Church authorities. Without bishops taking the new rules and punishments seriously, there is an opportunity for the same pattern of sporadic enforcement to continue.

B. Current Procedures for Reporting and Tracking Clerical Sexual Abuse
i. General Child Sexual Abuse Statistics and the Vulnerability of Survivors of Color

By carefully gaining the trust of a child and his family and staging strategic interactions, child abusers manipulate children and their families.102 Ninety-one percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows.103 Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to authorities104 and victims abused by clergy are less likely to report abuse than other victims of crime.105 Child molesters targeting girls have a 16% rate of reoffending while child molesters targeting boys have a 35% rate of reoffending.106 In reporting child sexual abuse, dioceses are not required to include the ethnicity of survivors in reports and very few diocese have tracked the ethnicity of survivors.107 Survivors of color are more vulnerable to sexual abuse because they are less likely to know where to report such crimes and are less likely to afford an attorney.108 Moreover, communities in extreme geographic isolation, such as Native American communities, often do not have access to media to see press releases of accused priests.109 Additionally, Native American and Latinx cultural barriers, such as having the utmost reverence and respect for the Church or being undocumented, make it exceptionally harder for survivors to come forward with abuse accusations to their families.110 Overall, in 2017, the economic burden of child maltreatment in California alone totaled more than $19 billion.111 Child abuse survivors are more likely to experience mental health issues, substance abuse, and higher arrest rates.112 Furthermore, child maltreatment often goes unreported since children often do not recognize certain behaviors as abuse and due to the complexity of coping with the fear, guilt, shame , and other emotions that often accompany child abuse.113 While racial and cultural backgrounds create greater barriers for some to get proper help, the intricacies of Church and State relations reinforce these barriers for all child sexual abuse survivors.

ii. The Complexity of Church-State Relations

Collectively, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment are commonly referred to as the Religious Clauses.114 While the Establishment Clause forbids Congress from establishing an official religion, the Free Exercise Clause prevents Congress from interfering with one’s religious practices.115 These clauses are applicable to State governments through the Fourteenth Amendment.116 Thus, the First Amendment essentially creates a position of government religious neutrality rather than a complete separation of church and state.117 In hearing several cases determining the extent of the government’s reach under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court holds that the government cannot dictate religious institutions’ beliefs or internal organization,118 including who they chose to be “ministers of the faith.”119 Therefore, the Court’s interpretation of the Religious Clauses has made it exceptionally challenging for cases involving clerical sexual abuse of minors since it centers around the Church’s internal organization and its clergy.

iii. Reporting Sexual Misconduct through USCCB

The bishop is responsible for managing his assigned diocese/eparchy, including the reporting of clerical sexual misconduct, and has the executive power to remove an offending cleric or limit his exercise of ministry.120 The Essential Norms require each diocese/eparchy to (1) have a detailed written policy on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and church personnel, (2) designate “a competent person” to coordinate assistance to claimants of clergy sexual abuse (Victim Assistance Coordinators), and (3) create a review board, composed of at least five appointed members with the majority being lay persons not employed by the Church but including at least one experienced priest, that functions as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch.121 Victim Assistance Coordinators (“VAC”) are to act as liaisons between the victim and the specific diocese/eparch.122 There is a list of VACs for each diocese that is easily accessible through the USCCB website that provides contact information for each VAC.123 To make an allegation against a priest or deacon, the survivor should contact his VAC.

Once an allegation is made to a church, a preliminary investigation must be held in accordance with canon law, which does not detail any required steps or guidelines for the investigation or who must conduct the investigation.124 During the investigation, the bishop/eparch shall remove the accused from any Church function until the investigation is complete.125 When the investigator determines that “sufficient evidence” has been collected, the investigator decides whether the claim warrants a judicial process or to infliction of a penalty.126 There is no definition for the meaning of “sufficient evidence.”127 Although the finding may be changed “whenever” new evidence indicates that another decision must be rendered, it is unclear whether the introduction of new evidence must fall within the prescription of that crime.128 When an accusation is proved to be true or the priest or deacon admits to sexual abuse, the offending clergy will be removed from ministry permanently and may be dismissed from the Church depending on the case.129 A priest or deacon who was found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor cannot be transferred to another diocese or eparchy for a ministerial assignment.130 However, a priest or deacon who has only been accused of sexual abuse of a minor can be transferred to another diocese if all information indicating that the priest or deacon may be a danger to children is sent to the receiving bishop before the transfer.131 There are no guidelines preventing a bishop from transferring or accepting previously accused priests or preventing the transfer of priests, who have committed sexual abuse, to another diocese for something other than a ministerial assignment.132 Additionally, these guidelines do not specify the many possible complexities, such as if a priest is accused after being transferred to another diocese, which diocese is responsible for the investigation and how the dioceses work and communicate with one another.133 Unless the investigative reports are necessary for the penal process, records of the investigation, such as the acts taken during the investigation, are kept in a secret archive and are not available to the public.134

While the process for reporting priests and deacons is left to a phone call or email to VACs, the USCCB has an external online platform for survivors to report a bishop for sexual abuse or interfering and disrupting investigations of sexual abuse.135 However, this site is only to be used to report the two aforementioned types of misconduct and to report a bishop for any other misconduct, a person must contact his local diocese.136 The reporting site is step-by-step process where the reporter should (1) select the bishop involved from the generated list of all current bishops in the U.S., (2) describe the issue including the involved parties, the location and date of the issue, and the reporter’s contact information, and (3) review and submit the report.137 There is no further information detailing the process for reporting sexual abuse by a former bishop.138 Since these are only the procedures for reporting clergy internally to the church (which is the only way to possibly remove such clergy from their priestly duties), a person may want to also file civil or criminal proceedings to receive financial compensation or to have the accused convicted criminally and serve time in jail or prison.

iv. California State Reporting: Statute of Limitations and Sex Offender Registration

Given the attention to this subject in the past twenty years and the knowledge of how certain statutes of limitations can adversely affect child sexual abuse survivors, some states have begun to change some statutes of limitations to better help survivors.

1. Civil Statute of Limitations
Figure 2: U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops2020 Annual Report on the Implementation of Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 25 (Oct. 2021),

The most recent and significant changes to California’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse was achieved by Assembly Bill 218 (California Child Victims Act), which introduced three main changes to statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse survivors to receive damages (financial compensation).139 First, the Bill expanded the meaning of “childhood sexual abuse” and renamed it as “childhood sexual assault.”140 Childhood sexual assault is defined by Section 340.1(d) and includes acts such as oral copulation, sodomy, and lewd or lascivious acts with a person under the age of eighteen years-old.141 While the prior law gave the survivor until his twenty-sixth birthday or three years from discovery of the abuse to file a civil lawsuit,142 the new law gives the survivor until his fortieth birthday or five years from the discovery of the abuse to file a civil lawsuit.143 Most notably, as of January 1, 2020,  the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault is suspended for three years, which allows victims of all ages (who possibly had time-barred claims and could not file a civil lawsuit before) to file a civil lawsuit during this time.144 Lastly, the new law allows for a court to impose triple damages against a defendant who is found to have covered up the sexual assault of a minor.145 Since the passage of the California Child Victims Act, the USCCB reported an increase in reported incidents of sexual assault from 2017 to 2020.146 While there were only 693 reported incidents in 2017, this number climbed to 1,455 reported incidents in 2018, 4,434 reported incidents in 2019, and 4,250 reported incidents in 2020.147

2. Criminal Statute of Limitations

Unlike the civil code’s uniform statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault, the criminal statute of limitations differ depending upon the criminal offense.148 Prosecution of felony offenses against minors that happened on or after January 1, 2015, such as sodomy, rape, and oral copulation, can be commenced any time before the survivor’s 40th birthday.149 If the felony offense’s statute of limitations was in effect prior to January 1, 2015 and has not run by January 1, 2015, prosecution can be commenced any time before the survivor’s 40th birthday.150 Alternatively, molestation of a minor under the age of 14 years-old has a three-year statute of limitations.151 Additionally, under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, certain professions qualify someone as a “mandated reporter,” which include teachers and clergy.152 Mandated reporters are required by law to report child abuse or neglect to the appropriate agency if they have a reasonable suspicion that a child is in danger.153 If a mandated reporter fails to report abuse or a neglect, he can face up to one year in county jail and up to a $5,000 fine.154 However, if a clergy receives information of child abuse or neglect during a “penitential communication,” a communication made in confidence, such as a sacramental confession, the clergy member “has a duty to keep those communications secret” and is not legally required to report such suspicions or knowledge.155 Only when a clergy member is acting in “some other capacity” must he report suspicion or knowledge of child abuse or neglect.156

3. Sex Offender Registration and Megan’s Law

Before January 1, 2021 under Megan’s Law, offenders who were required to register as sex offenders were required to register for life and were listed on the public Megan’s Law website, which is run by the California Department of Justice.157 In an attempt to give low-risk offenders the opportunity to be removed from the registration list, California passed Senate Bill 384.158 Beginning January 1, 2021, California’s sex offender registration is now organized into three tiers for adult and juvenile offenders.159 For an adult offender, tier one encompasses the lowest level sexual offenses, such as indecent exposure, and requires the offender to register as a sex offender for at least ten years.160 Tier two includes mid-level offenses, such as non-forced sodomy and lewd acts with a minor under fourteen, and requires the offender to register as a sex offender for at least twenty years.161 Tier three encompasses the most violent sexual felonies, such as rape and forced sodomy, and requires the offender to register for life.162 For tiers one and two, a person can petition the appropriate superior court to terminate his registration at the end of the mandated registration period only if he has not been convicted of a new crime that requires registration.163 Once the petition has been filed, the district attorney may request a hearing on the petition if he believes community safety would be “significantly enhanced” by requiring the offender to remain on the list.164 If the court denies the petition, the court is required to set a date, one to five years from the date of the denial, when the offender can repetition for termination from the registry.165 If there is no hearing requested, the court will grant the petition and the offender will be removed from the registry.166 Additionally, certain registrants can apply with the Department of Justice to be excluded from the online public list, such as those convicted of possession and distribution of child pornography.167 The consequences for failing to register as a sex offender is an extension of the mandated registration period (one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies).168

v. Current Tracking of Clerical Sexual Abuse

Aside from state sex offender registries and individual diocese’s that list credibly abused priests, there is no public database managed by the federal government, state governments, or the Vatican/USCCB that lists and tracks (both credibly and not credibly) accused clergy. However, due to the lack of a uniform database, there are several independent organizations and law firms that have their own public databases of accused clergy such as,169,170 and Jeff Anderson & Associates PA.171

II. The Lack of Accountability: The Disconnect in Oversight Between the Church and States and the Public Resources that Seek to Create More Accountability

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation from The Boston Globe reports was not the abuse itself but rather the elaborate cover-ups Church officials executed to conceal known predatory behavior and keep such information from the public. Additionally, the reports highlighted the lack of legal solutions available to clerical sexual abuse survivors.

A. Conniving Church Cover-Ups and Other Church Immoralities
i. “Priest Shuffling” and the Resulting Hotspots in Tucson and Los Angeles

A practice implemented by bishops in the U.S., “priest shuffling” became widely used to transfer accused priests to other dioceses.172 Once a priest was accused, some bishops would transfer the priest to other churches within the same diocese, to other interstate dioceses, or even to other international dioceses often without telling the receiving diocese of the accusations the priest faced elsewhere.173 By transferring accused priests to other churches or dioceses, bishops avoided taking responsibility for their own subordinates while simultaneously avoiding possible legal action. “If you were a molester, you got sent to one of three places – a poor Latino community, Mexico or the Diocese of Tucson.”174

One of the most notorious dioceses for abusive priests is the Diocese of Tucson, which has been referred to as “a ‘dumping ground’ for abusive priests.”175 On its own website in a fairly accessible page, the Diocese of Tucson lists forty-nine clergy and Church personnel with employment, assignments, or ministry with the Diocese that have credible allegations of child sexual assault.176 Since there is no standard definition for a “credible accusation,” various dioceses take it upon themselves to define the components of a “credible accusation.”177 The Diocese of Tucson does not list a definition for a credible accusation, but it can be inferred from its website that credible accusations include criminal cases that result in a conviction and civil cases that result in damage awards and settlement agreements, among other successful legal actions.178 This list of forty-nine priests only accounts for cases where the Church deemed the accusation credible, an unknown standard, and omits priests facing any accusations, even those not deemed credible. Thus, this number of credibly accused priests is not a complete list of all predatory priests. On the other hand, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has a complete list of credibly or publicly accused clergy that is current through November 30, 2018.179 This list names 296 clergy and their status with the church, e.g., lay state, deceased, etc.180 While this list is publicly accessible, it was extremely difficult to find and arguably buried in its website archives. Additionally, the Archdiocese provides access to 128 files of abusive clergy who were subject to its global settlement from 2007, as mandated by the court.181 Since this list only includes credible or public accusations, there are accusations and predatory priests that are unaccounted for on its website.182

Although several lawsuits have alleged priest shuffling schemes between the Archdiocese Los Angeles and the Diocese of Tucson, to this date neither diocese has not been convicted of a crime involving priest shuffling, e.g., racketeering.183 However, with the information provided on, which cites 354 total accusations to date involving priests associated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, there are more than thirty priests with ties and transfers to/from other dioceses in Latinx communities such as Tucson (Arizona), Fresno (California), Las Cruces (New Mexico), and Mexico among others.184 Given that this only represents a small portion of transferred priests and vulnerability of people of color, there seems to be a pattern suggesting that the transfer of accused priests to Latinx communities is more than a coincidence or conspiracy.

ii. Anti-Survivor Lobbying Efforts

While the Supreme Court is conservative in its interpretation of the reach of the Religious Clauses, the USCCB believes “[t]he separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.”185 Thus, the Catholic Church has been outspoken about hotly-debated political controversies that conflict with the foundations of its religion, such as same-sex marriage and abortion.186 However, the Church is quiet about its lobbying efforts against sexual assault survivors.187 As several northeastern states in the recent years have begun to create legislation that increases statute of limitations to allow more survivors to file lawsuits, the Church faces the possibility of more payouts.188 From 2011 to 2019, the Church spent $10.6 million dollars lobbying in various states against this legislation that would benefit child sexual abuse survivors.189 This includes $5.3 million dollars in anti-survivor lobbying efforts in Pennsylvania and $2.9 million in New York.190 If the Church believes that one should be allowed to act on his values in public life,191 spending $10.6 million on lobbying against statute of limitation extensions to benefit clerical sexual abuse survivors clearly shows the Church’s values.

iii. Removed from Priesthood and Still Working with Children
1. Defining the Various Clerical States

When a clergy member is credibly accused, either canon law dictates the punishment or the bishop decides what clerical state the accused should hold often considering the severity and publicity surrounding the accusations.192 Defrocked, laicized, returned to lay state, removed from priesthood, and loss of clerical state are all interchangeable terms meaning that a priest is forbidden from priestly ministry and can only give absolution (last rites before death)193 to someone facing imminent death, although the Church formally recognizes laicization as the proper term.194 While some priests may be forcibly laicized for violating canon law, other priests may voluntarily request laicization to retire from priestly duties.195 Generally, a laicized priest cannot teach at Catholic schools but is returned to public life.196 Certain “outstanding and malicious crimes,” such as procurement of an abortion, call for excommunication latae sententiae (automatic).197 On the other hand, ferendae sententiae penalties (not binding upon offender until imposed), such as child sexual abuse, must be substantiated or deemed credible by the Church before it considers laicization or excommunication.198 Although priests may be laicized for credible accusations of child sexual abuse, there are several loopholes that allow priests to work with children after laicization or removal from the Church.

2. Unmonitored Priests

When a priest is laicized for accusations of child sexual abuse, it does not necessarily mean he was charged criminally or civilly through federal or state governments. Additionally, a priest can request to be laicized before the Church is able to determine if accusations are credible or not. When accusations of child sexual abuse are handled internally by the Church and are not brough into civil or criminal lawsuits, those records generally stay private to the Church. Thus, it is estimated that there are nearly 1,700 credibly accused priests who live unsupervised and some of whom are now teachers or coaches continuing to work with children.199 Since only select crimes require registration as a sex offender, a priest could be laicized for child sexual abuse but not required to register or not convicted all together and therefore remain unmonitored by the government. Once a priest is laicized, the Church also does not always monitor or track these priests.200 Some of the 1,700 priests have reoffended, highlighting another way in which our system fails to end the cycle of child sexual abuse.201

iv. Settling Out of Court and Forcing Nondisclosure Agreements

When families began filing civil lawsuits against individual dioceses in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a common practice for Church officials persuade families to settle out of court to avoid embarrassment and shame to the families.202 However, in return, the families were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements and many families obliged.203 Thus, there are a number of survivors who were not given appropriate financial compensation and are not able to file lawsuits as a result of these nondisclosure agreements.204

B. Legal Loopholes: Bankruptcy and Asset Shielding to Avoid Substantial Survivor Payouts and Future Litigation

To date, the Catholic Church has paid more than $3 billion in settlements for clerical sexual abuse in the U.S.205 The largest settlement thus far was $660 million paid by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to 508 survivors in 2007.206 To afford these types of settlements, several dioceses have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows a diocese to reorganize its assets to afford payouts and continue to operate, including selling Church-owned properties.207 Once a bankruptcy petition is filed, an automatic stay is initiated where certain actions are precluded, such as “commencement and continuation” of legal actions, enforcements of judgments, and any act to collect a claim.208 Thus, when a diocese files Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all civil lawsuits are stopped until a party files a petition for relief (for the court to end the automatic stay).209 During the bankruptcy process, the corporation must file a list of its financial affairs and schedules of assets and liabilities and income and expenses, which are all prepared by the corporation.210 A corporation (including non-profits) must file bankruptcy in good faith meaning the petition must serve a valid bankruptcy purpose and not for “tactical litigation advantages.”211 In 2004, the Diocese of Tucson filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy because it was a way for the Diocese to simultaneously settle all seventy-seven claims of sexual abuse and protect it from future litigation.212 The Diocese paid $22.2 million for the seventy-seven claims and established a trust for future claims of sexual abuse.213

Although no sex abuse bankruptcy case has been dismissed for bad faith, several judges have recognized the negative loophole bankruptcy provides to the Church by creating an avenue to deal with sex abuse claims easily and quietly.214 Additionally, over the past fifteen years, individual dioceses have collectively shielded more than $2 billion in assets by transferring and reclassifying its assets to decrease limit survivor payouts.215 Some of these actions include incorporating individual parishes, creating separate bank accounts and trusts, and misstating diocese-owned property values.216 By shuffling their assets, dioceses thereby decrease the value of their bankruptcy estate and ultimately pay less money to survivors.217

C. The Silver Lining: Public Accountability

Without government or Church-regulated public databases of all accused clergy, several independent organizations have filled the void by curating their own databases, such as Since these databases rely on public information, they are not complete lists and do not include all accusations. However, they currently act as the best and most complete resources to find accused clergy. In the absence of these databases, we would be left on our own to scour the internet to research accused clergy across the U.S. Thus, public accountability is currently the most effective resource to combat clerical sexual assault when compared to the Church or our governments (state and federal), which is common in juvenile justice issues.

III. Recommendations to Address the Church’s Continuance of Clerical Sexual Abuse

A. California Should Eliminate the Statute of Limitations for All Felony Sex Crimes

To allow an offender to be prosecuted at any time, about ten states have eliminated statutes of limitations for all felony sex crimes.219 While California has eliminated the statute of limitations for several sex crimes, it has not eliminated the statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes.220 Given that child abuse is underreported,221 giving a survivor a deadline until the age of 40 to report felony sexual abuse only further harms the survivor. Since there are several underlying complexities to coping with child sexual abuse,222 there should not be a finite age limiting when a survivor can no longer come forward. The son from the Introduction of this paper came forward with his abuse accusations when he was thirty-two years old after being encouraged by his wife.223 Had his wife not encouraged him to come forward, there is no guarantee the son would have come forward by his fortieth birthday.224 This is only one instance where a person with credible child sexual abuse accusations could have been barred by statutes of limitations and the priest would have been free to continue abusing others. Thus, to best support survivors of child sexual abuse, California should follow in the footsteps of other states, like Kentucky and Virginia, to eliminate the statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes.225   

B. The USCCB Should be Required to Create Uniformity Across All 194 Archdioceses/Dioceses

Over the past seventy years, USCCB’s control over its 194 archdiocese/dioceses has proven to be ineffective given the rise and covering up of child sexual abuse. While the Church aims to address the issues of child sexual abuse by strengthening spirituality of chastity,226 reinforcing archaic principles that were initially implemented to arguably control clergy’s property do not properly address the systemic issue of hiding clerical sexual abuse.227 Since most abuses are not reported until years after occurring,228 there are still survivors who have yet to come forward. Therefore, there are predatory priests who are still presently working with children. The independent protocols and guidelines of each diocese creates an unbalanced and inequitable system to hold predatory Catholic clergy accountable.

i. The USCCB Must Create and Enforce Standard Guidelines for Handling Child Sexual Abuse Claims
1. The USCCB Should Define “Credible Accusations”

With several states recently enacting legislation with “look-back windows” that temporarily suspend statutes of limitations,229 certain time-barred claims can be filed during these windows, which may increase the number of lawsuits filed in the next few years. Each diocese has a list of priests and clergy with “credible accusations” (also referred to as substantiated accusations) of child sexual abuse. Since there is no standard for what qualifies an accusation as credible, it is imperative for USCCB to create a standard definition for “credible accusations.” While some dioceses may consider evidence of inappropriate touching a credible accusation, another diocese may not consider this behavior or the amount of evidence provided to qualify as a credible accusation. Thus, a priest committing the same crime in two different dioceses could be laicized for his actions in one diocese but not in the other. Having 194 possible definitions for a credible accusation will continue to create variance of loopholes among the Church and not hold abusers equally accountable across all dioceses.

Based on the Diocese of Oakland’s definition of a “credible accusation,”230 the USCCB should adopt the following definition, or similar, of a “credible accusation:”

  • (1) The accusation must involve sexual abuse of a minor (someone under the age of 18), which includes, but is not limited to:
  • inappropriate fondling or touching,
  • any unwanted physical contact,
  • grooming and bribing,
  • inappropriate conversations, phone calls, text messages or any other inappropriate digital contact,
  • sending, receiving, or producing pornographic images of children
  • sex of any kind,
  • genital penetration,
  • exposing oneself to a minor,
  • sex trafficking,
  • masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate, or
  • any other contact (physical or digital) that is sexual in nature;
  • (2) At the time of the abuse or after the abuse, the offender was a priest, deacon, religious brother/sister, seminarian, Church administrator, Church employee, Church volunteer, or other lay member of the Church; and

  • (3) The abuse happened:
  • within the geographic jurisdiction of the Diocese,
  • by a priest or deacon of the Diocese,
  • by a seminarian or lay person affiliated with the Diocese, or
  • by a priest or deacon who is known to have lived within the geographic jurisdiction of the Diocese and who has been identified by another diocese, a religious order, law enforcement or a court of law as being credibly accused.

If an allegation fits these criteria, the bishop and VAC must review the available and relevant information (including, but not limited to, criminal convictions, other legal actions, files from other dioceses, and patterns of conduct) to determine if the claim was plausible or more likely than not to be true. With a standard definition for “credible accusations,” like the one above, all dioceses will be able to evaluate allegations of child sexual abuse equally and uniformly. Thus, there will be less chance for predatory clergy to slip through the cracks as they have in the past.

2. The USCCB Should Create Uniform Policies and Evaluations Surrounding the Sexual Abuse of Minors for all Dioceses

Although all dioceses are required to have a detailed written policy on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and church personnel, the USCCB does not oversee or draft such policies.231 This is another example where the USCCB creates general guidelines for its dioceses to make it seem as though they are doing everything in their power to assert control over the issue of child sexual abuse. However, a lack of uniform policies across its dioceses allows for unequal punishment and enforcement of such punishments. If different dioceses have different policies for handling child sexual abuse claims, priests can elude punishments at certain dioceses yet possibly be held accountable at other dioceses, which creates another avenue for predatory priests evade punishment and accountability.

Additionally, since the bishops and religious superiors of the seminary curate the components of psychological evaluations for seminary admissions and ultimately make the admission decision,232 the Church should be required to abide by unbiased psychologist-approved guidelines. Priests and Catholic clergy are not professional psychologists and do not have the required training or knowledge to assess whether a person is mentally fit to enter priesthood. Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health professionals are the only highly trained professionals capable of assessing a person’s mental well-being, which includes unearthing possible issues that may arise with certain individuals in priesthood. Thus, psychologists unassociated with the Church (or other appropriate mental health specialists) should curate the evaluation guidelines and have the ultimate say in who is not mentally fit for priesthood. Therefore, creating uniform evaluations and policies on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and Church personnel has the possibility to greatly minimize loopholes for predatory clergy.

3. The USCCB Should Create an Online Reporting System for Priests and Other Church Personnel

While a person can report a bishop online for sexual misconduct or for failing to report child sexual abuse, a person must first contact their local VAC to report priests or other Church personnel for sexual misconduct.233 Since there is already an active online reporting system currently up and running, it makes most sense for the USCCB to transition all clergy reporting to its online reporting system, Convercent.234 However, it is important to keep the layperson dynamic in the reporting system that VAC’s provide to the process to avoid possible bishop non-reporting as is all too familiar for the Church. Once a report is made, it should be electronically sent to the correct diocese and its VAC and bishop. From there, the VAC should retain its current role by initially contacting the victim and acting as a liaison between the bishop/diocese and the survivor to carry out the rest of the reporting policy procedure. The website to report abuse should be easily accessible not only on the USCCB’s website, but also clearly displayed on all 194 archdioceses’/dioceses’ websites. Additionally, given the emotional complexity of child sexual abuse, it may be easier for survivors to first report their abuse on an automatic electronic database and wait for a return correspondence from the Church rather than having to call or email a person they have likely never met and divulge their abuse story. Moreover, this will create an organized and complete electronic record of all child sexual abuse accusations across all dioceses and cannot be manipulated by Church personnel. This reporting system could also be used as a database to assist VACs and bishops better manage the various accusations throughout the reporting and investigating processes. Allowing survivors to report all sexual misconduct for all Church personnel on the USCCB’s already-existing online reporting system will not only provide an organized database of child sexual abuse accusation but also may make survivors more comfortable reporting the abuses to the Church to have the abusive clergy removed from ministry.

ii. The USCCB Should be Required to Collaborate with a Lay Organization to Create a Public Centralized Database of All Accused Church Personnel

There are certain priests that may have been accused of child sexual abuse and returned to lay state who never faced criminal or civil charges and therefore was never forced to register as a sex offender. When these priests leave their dioceses and get new jobs as laypeople in other places or dioceses (either in a new state or even new country), the only records of laicization are tracked by either nonprofit organizations or individual dioceses that update these lists on their websites at different rates. However, these diocesan lists only include “credible accusations,” which as discussed above, does not have a standard definition across all dioceses.235 Although a priest or deacon who has only been accused of sexual abuse of a minor can be transferred to another diocese if all information indicating that the priest or deacon may be a danger to children is sent to the receiving bishop before the transfer, 236 it is unclear how the dioceses communicate with one another during this process. In fact, this lack of communication between the individual states, the USCCB, and its individual dioceses is one of the biggest loopholes that allows credibly accused and other accused priests of child sexual assault to continue working with children.237 Therefore, the Church should be required to work with a lay organization to create a centralized online public database of all accused clergy to prevent predatory clergy fly under the radar and have the opportunity to keep abusing children.

Instead of individual dioceses being responsible for publishing independent lists of abusive clergy, there should be a centralized list of all accused clergy where individual dioceses can input individual priests under their jurisdiction that other dioceses can add to and is managed by the USCCB and overseen by the lay organization. The public database should include the accused’s name, his position, appropriates dates and locations of each assignment, all credible accusations and dates of accusations (under a new standard definition), his current address, and his current clerical state. If the Church personnel is still working with a diocese, the database must identify that diocese. Additionally, the database should indicate when clergy is being transferred and the reason for each transfer, which can also serve as an autonomous clergy tracking program. While the USCCB could manage this task on its own, there is still too much uncertainty with its anti-reporting past to rely solely on the USCCB. The lay organization will ensure that the database is regularly updated and that all information and credible accusations are being truthfully reported. The lay organization should have no members associated with the Church and should not be managed by the USCCB in any way to maintain the database’s integrity. Furthermore, the Church should be responsible for funding the creation and maintenance of the database because if the Church has $10.6 million to spend on anti-survivor lobbying,238 it can afford the burden of paying for a centralized public database. It should be easily accessible through the USCCB’s website and each individual diocese’s website. The database would also publicly hold the Church accountable for its actions and not allow the Church settlements and pay offs as a means of final resolution only for the same priests to keep abusing. It could be used by employers, neighbors, or concerned parents to be informed about who they chose to be around their children or who they hire to work for their organization.

IV. Conclusion

With lack of reporting of child sexual abuse,239 it is imperative to remove as many obstacles as possible for survivors to report and receive remedies for. Due to the inherent internalization of Church processes and the lack of communication between the state, the USCCB and individual dioceses, credibly accused predatory priests continue to work with children even after being dismissed from the Church.240 After being exposed in 2002,241 the Church’s notorious cover-up behavior has tainted the Church’s reputation of being a “communitas perfecta”—the perfect community undertaking the mission of humanity’s salvation from sin242 to a “communitas (IM)perfecta” —the imperfect community encouraging and shielding sinners. The Church has promised to do better; however, when abusive priests and Church personnel still have access to children, that is no improvement.

Therefore, to address this issue of concealment and lack of communication between several agencies and the Catholic Church should be required to create uniformity across all 194 archdioceses/dioceses by creating standardized policies and definitions and creating and maintaining a centralized public database of accused, transferred, and laicized clergy. A public database would allow for more public awareness of possibly dangerous people who should not be trusted with the care of children. This public awareness would prevent the Church from using payouts as a final means of justice only to have the same accused priests flying under the radar and working with children yet again. To better help all survivors, California should follow in the footsteps of other states by eliminating statutes of limitations for all felony sex crimes. Removing some of these obstacles may help survivors heal and stop the cycle of abuse within their own home and within the Church. Although there may be constitutional limitations on what the Supreme Court can require the Church to do, there are still predatory priests currently working with children, which should be a concern to every legislative body, every court, and every person.


Landing Image: Background photo of figure by Mahdi Rezaei on Unsplash. Media headline photos by their respective companies: CBS News, The Boston Globe, NBC News, and CBS News.

*Since the son was a minor when these events occurred, his identity has been kept anonymous.

1 A.J. Flick, Molester priest gets 9.5 yrs. in prison, Tucson Citizen, June 10, 2003, at 1C.

2 Interview with Anonymous (Sep. 17, 2021).

3 Flick, supra note 1.

4 The data for 2003-2020 was gathered from the USCCB’s Annual Reports on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, while the data for 1950-2002 was gathered from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Report. The majority of abuse reports were citing to past abuses while the minority were reporting current abuses. U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Child and Youth Protection Archives (last visited Jan. 22, 2022),; U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Child and Youth Protection Audits (last visited Jan. 22, 2022),; John Jay Coll. of Crim. Just. at The City Univ. of New York, The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002 4 (2004).

5 Plumeau v. Sch. Dist. No. 40 Cty. of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432 (9th Cir. 1997).

6 Jonathan Kirsch, God Against the Gods 1 (Penguin Books 2004).

7 Id. at 2.

8 Id. at 4.

9 Edward Peters et al., History of Europe: The Organization of Late Imperial Christianity (Nov. 26, 2020),

10 Id.

11 John Meyendorff, Eastern Orthodoxy, Encyclopedia Britannica (Aug. 20, 2020),

12 Peters et al., supra note 9.

13 Rev. Alexander Laschuk, The Role of Canon Law in the Catholic Tradition and the Question of Church and State, Cardus (Jan. 14, 2009),

14 Matthew 28:16.

15 Leslie Woodcock Tentler, American Catholics 8 (2020).

16 Id.

17 Id.

18 Id.

19 Margaret M. McGuinness et al., Roman Catholicism in the Unites States 8 (Fordham University Press 2019).

20 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Bishops and Dioceses (Sep. 29, 2021),

21 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Bishops and Dioceses by State (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

22 LA Catholics, Pastoral Regions (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

23 LA Catholics, Who We Are (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

24 Id.

25 LA Catholics, supra note 22.

26 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 21.

27 Roman Cath. Diocese of Tucson, About the Diocese of Tucson (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

28 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 20.

29 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, FAQs- Priesthood, Ordination, Seminary (last visited Oct. 15, 2021),

30 Id.

31 Id.

32 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, 32 (5th ed. 2006),

33 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in Seminary Admissions 2 (2015),

34 Id.

35 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 32, at 33.

36 Id. at 34.

37 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 33, at 2, 8.

38 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 29.

39 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Glossary of Catholic Terms (last visited Oct. 15, 2021),

40 Helen L. Owen, When Did the Catholic Church Decide Priests Should be Celibate, History News Network, (Oct. 2001),

41 Id.

42 Id.

43 Id.

44 Benefice, Oxford English Dictionary Online (Sep. 2021).

45 Leslie Woodcock Tentler, A Story of Gifts: Becoming a Historian of American Catholicism, 106, Cath. Hist. Rev. 183 188, (2020).

46 Matthew 18; James 1:27; Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 14:31, 17:5.

47 Romans 1:26-27; Jude 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9.

48 Thomas P. Doyle, Clericalism: Enabler of Clergy Sexual Abuse, 54 Pastoral Psychol. 189, 194 (2006).

49 Matt Carroll et al., Church allowed abuse by priest for years, The Boston Globe (Jan. 6, 2002),

50 Id.

51 Id.

52 Id.

53 Id.

54 Id.

55 Id.

56 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (last visited Oct. 15, 2021),

57 Id.

58 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 12 art. 8 (2018),

59 Id. at 13 art. 10.

60 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Bishops and Eparchs (last visited Nov. 6, 2021),

61 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Who We Are (last visited Oct. 15, 2021),

62 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, The Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons within Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (last updated June 2018),

63 John Jay Coll. of Crim. Just., The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002 (2004).

64 Id. at 4.

65 Id. at 3-4.

66 Id. at 69.

67 Id. at 71.

68 Id. at 72.

69 Id. at 74.

70 Id.

71 Id. at 59-60.

72 Id.

73 Id. at 60-61.

74 Id. at 74.

75 Id. at 60-61.

76 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 4.

77 Id.

78 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Thematic Framework of the 2021-2024 USCCB Strategic Plan, (2021),

79 Every Pope ever: the full list, The Guardian Datablog (last visited Oct. 18, 2021),

80 The Vatican, The Abuse of Minors. The Church’s Response (last visited Oct. 18, 2021),

81 Every Pope ever: the full list, supra note 79.

82 Briefing, Holy See Press Office, The Meeting of the Council of Cardinals (Dec. 5, 2013),

83 The Vatican, The Abuse of Minors. The Church’s Response (last visited Oct. 18, 2021),

84 Letter, Pope Francis, Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Institution of a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Mar. 22, 2014),

85 Statutes, The Vatican, Article 1, 2 (Apr. 21, 2015),

86 The Vatican, supra note 83.

87 Meeting, Holy See Press Office, The Protection of Minors in the Church (Feb. 21, 2019),

88 Letter from Pope Francis, An Apostolic Letter Issued motu proprio, Vos Estis Lux Mundi, Vatican (May 7, 2019).

89 Id.

90 Bulletin, Holy See Press Office, New Book VI of the Code of Canon Law (Jan. 6, 2021),

91 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops,Canon Law (last visited Oct. 18, 2021),

92 Id.

93 JD Flynn, Breaking: Pope Francis makes big changes to Canon Law, The Pillar (June 1, 2021),

94 Id.

95 Book VI, Part II, Title VI, Can. 1398 § 2.

96 Id. at Part I, Title II, Can. 1323-326.

97 Id. at Title III, Can. 1323-326 (1983).

98 Id. at Title VI, Can. 1362 § 1, 2.

99 Id.

100 Id. at Can. 1362 § 1.

101 Id. at Title III, Can. 1326 § 1.

102 Williams, R., Elliott, I. A., & Beech, A. R. (2013). Identifying sexual grooming themes used by Internet sex offenders. Deviant Behavior, 34(2), 135-152.

103 CDC, Preventing Child Sexual Abuse (Apr. 30, 2021),

104 Nat’l Sexual Violence Res. Ctr., Statistics About Sexual Violence, 2 (last visited Jan. 22, 2022),

105 Church doesn’t track ethnicity of abuse survivors, including particularly vulnerable victims of color, Los Angeles Times (Jan. 4, 2020, 2:45 PM),

106 N.Y. State, Division of Criminal Justice Services Myths and Facts (Apr. 2014),

107 Church doesn’t track ethnicity of abuse survivors, supra note 105.

108 Id.

109 Id.

110 Id.

111 Safe and Sound, The Economics of Child Abuse: A Study of California, 1 (Mar. 2019),

112 Id. at 14.

113 Id. at 19.

114 U.S. Const. amend. I.

115 Id.

116 Id. at amend. XIV.

117 16A C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 857 (2021).

118 Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 679 (1871).

119 Hosanna-Tabor v. E.E.O.C., 565 U.S. 171, 190-92 (2012) (holding that the ministerial exception in the First Amendment bars religious institutional employees who hold ministerial responsibilities from bringing discrimination lawsuits against said institutions); see also Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch. v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S.Ct. 2049, 2069 (2020) (finding that teachers at religious institutions who give students religious instruction qualify as ministers and therefore are not protected by federal anti-discrimination laws).

120 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at 24-25.

121 Id. at 22-23.

122 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Victim Assistance (last visited Nov. 7, 2021),

123 Id.

124 Book VII, Part I, Title VI, Can. 1717 § 1-3.

125 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at 23.

126 Supra note 121, at Can. 1718 § 1.

127 Id. at Can. 1718.

128 Id. at Can. 1718 § 2.

129 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at 23-24.

130 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at 25.

131 Id.

132 Id.

133 Id.

134 Book VII, Part I, Title VI, Can. 1719.

135 Cath. Bishop Abuse Reporting Serv., (last visited Nov. 7, 2021).

136 Id.

137 Convercent, (last visited Nov. 7, 2021).

138 Cath. Bishop Abuse Reporting Serv., supra note 135.

139 A.B. 218, Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ca. 2019).

140 Id.

141 Cal. Civ. Pro. Code § 340.1(d).

142 Id. at § 340.1(b)(1) (2019).

143 Id. at § 340.1(c).

144 Id. at § 340.1(q).

145 Id. at § 340.1(b)(1).

146 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, 2020 Annual Report on the Implementation of Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, 25 (Oct. 2021), %202020.pdf.

147 Id.

148 Cal. Penal Code § 799-805.

149 Id. at § 801.1(a)(2).

150 Id.

151 Id. at § 802(b).

152 Id. at § 11165.

153 Id. at § 11166.

154 Id. at § 11166.01(b).

155 Id. at § 11166(d)(1).

156 Id. at § 11166(d)(2).

157 Id. at § 290 (2019).

158 S.B. 384, Reg. Sess., (Ca. 2017).

159 Supra note 148, at § 290.

160 Id. at § 290 (d)(1)(A).

161 Id. at § 290 (d)(2)(A).

162 Id. at § 290 (d)(3)(A).

163 Id. at § 290.5 (a)(1).

164 Id. at § 290.5 (a)(1)-(2).

165 Id. at § 290.5 (a)(4).

166 Id. at § 290.5 (a)(2).

167 Id. at § 290.46 (e)(1)-(2).

168 Id. at § 290 (e).

169, (last visited Nov. 13, 2021).

170, (last visited Nov. 13, 2021).

171 Jeff Anderson & Associates PA, (last visited Nov. 13, 2021).

172 André Armbruster, On the undisclosed transfer of abusive Catholic priests: A filed theoretical analysis of the sexual repression within the Catholic Church and the use of legitimate language, Critical Rsch. on Religion, May 2021, at 2.

173 Predator Priests Shuffled Around the Globe, CBS News (Apr. 14, 2010, 10:12 PM),

174 Stephanie Innes, Tucson a ‘dumping ground’ for abusive priests, Arizona Daily Star (Feb. 24, 2013),

175 Id.

176 Roman Cath. Diocese of Tucson, Credibly Accused (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

177 Diocese of Oakland, Credibly Accused (last visited Nov. 10, 2021),

178 Roman Cath. Diocese of Tucson, supra note 176.

179 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 2018 Update to the Report to the People of God (last visited Nov. 13, 2021),

180 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Consolidated List of Persons Named in The Report to The People of God Through 2008, With Current Status Through November 30, 2018, (Nov. 30, 2018),

181 LA Catholics, Clergy Files Produced by Archdiocese of Los Angeles (last visited Nov. 12, 2021),

182 Id.

183 Brogdon v. Roman Cath. Archbishop of Los Angeles, No. CV-20-0056, 2021 WL 1574635 (Apr. 22, 2021); James Sterngold, SCANDALS IN THE CHURCH: THE LAWSUITS; 4 Sue Cardinal Mahony, Using Racketeering Laws, The New York Times (Apr. 30, 2002),

184, Archdiocese of Los Angeles (last visited Nov. 13, 2021), The average Hispanic/Latino population estimates for the counties within each of these dioceses is as follows: 42% for the Diocese of Tucson, 48% for the Diocese of Fresno, and 51.75% for the Diocese of Las Cruces; see generally Census Quick Facts, (July 2019).

185 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Catholics in Political Life (last visited Oct. 3, 2021),

186 Press Release, Supreme Court Decision on Marriage “A Tragic Error” Says President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference,United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Jun. 26, 2015),; U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching (last visited Oct. 3, 2021),

187 Catholic Church Spends $10.6 million to lobby against legislation that would benefit victims of child sex abuse, CBS News (Jun. 6, 2019, 11:17 AM),

188 Id.

189 Id.

190 Id.

191 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 185.

192 Questions and Answers: On being dismissed from the clerical state, The Catholic Sun (Feb. 16, 2010),

193 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, Penance (last visited Nov. 13, 2021),

194 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 39.

195 Id.

196 What does it mean for a priest to be laicized or defrocked?, (Feb. 13, 2019, 3:20 PM),

197 Book VI, Part I, Title II, Can. 1314, 1318; Part II, Title VI, Can. 1397 §2.

198 Book VI, Part I, Title II, Can. 1315; Part II, Title VI, Can. 1339; Book VII, Part IV, Chapter I, Can. 1717-719.

199 Almost 1,700 priests and clergy accused of sex abuse are unsupervised, NBC News (Oct. 14, 2019, 9:03 AM),

200 Id.

201 Id.

202 Catholic Church Shields $2 Billion in Assets to Limit Abuse Payouts, Bloomberg Businessweek (Jan. 8, 2020, 2:00 AM),

203 Id.

204 Id.

205, Sexual Abuse by U.S. Catholic Clergy-Settlements and Monetary Awards in Civil Suits (last visited Nov. 13, 2021),

206 Id.

207 11 U.S.C.A. § 1101-74.

208 Id. at § 362(a).

209 Id. at § 301, § 362(d).

210 Id. at § 521(a).

211 In re SGL Carbon Corp., 200 F.3d 154, 165 (3d Cir. 1999).

212 W. Cole Durham et al., Religious Organizations and the Law § 13:11 (2d) (2021).

213 Id.

214 Id.

215 Catholic Church Shields $2 Billion in Assets to Limit Abuse Payouts, supra note 202.

216 Id.

217 Id.

218 Supra notes 169-171.

219 Rainn, Five Things that Make an Effective Statute of Limitations (last visited Nov. 13, 2021),

220 Id.

221 Safe and Sound, supra note 111.

222 Id.

223 Supra note 2.

224 Id.

225 Rainn, supra note 219.

226 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 78.

227 Owen, supra note 40.

228 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 4.

229 Joseph H. Saunders, Eight States Have “Look Back” Windows Allowing Survivors of Priest Sex Abuse to Seek Justice, Los Angeles Legal Examiner (Dec. 6, 2019),

230 Diocese of Oakland, supra note 177.

231 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at22-23.

232 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 33, at 2, 8.

233 Cath. Bishop Abuse Reporting Ser., supra note 135.

234 Convercent, supra note 137.

235 Diocese of Oakland, supra note 177.

236 U.S. Conf. of Cath. Bishops, supra note 62, at 25-26.

237 Almost 1,700 priests and clergy accused of sex abuse are unsupervised, supra note 199.

238 Catholic Church Spends $10.6 million to lobby against legislation that would benefit victims of child sex abuse, supra note 187.

239 Nat’l Sexual Violence Res. Ctr., supra note 105.

240 Almost 1,700 priests and clergy accused of sex abuse are unsupervised, supra note 199.

241 Matt Carroll et al., supra note 49.

242 Rev. Alexander Laschuk, supra note 13.

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