Louisiana Legislature allows for more child sex abuse lawsuits — including against the Catholic Church

More adult victims of child abuse could get an opportunity to sue for damages

By: - June 10, 2021 2:40 pm
Catholic Church

“Crucifix” by Svadilfari is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Catholic Church and other major institutions accused of mistreating children stand to lose a lot more money to lawsuits brought by victims of abuse under a bill unanimously approved by the Louisiana Legislature Thursday. 

House Bill 492, sponsored by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, removes the time limit for civil lawsuits over child abuse. Currently, a person must sue over child abuse before they turn 28 years old. 

The legislation also establishes a three-year “lookback window” that would allow any adult victims of child abuse who ran out of time to sue under the current law to now file a lawsuit over that abuse. The new law would essentially become retroactive — but only for three years — under this legislation.  

Similar laws in other states brought a wave of new suits against the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, private schools and other institutions with widespread abuse problems. The bill applies not only to sexual abuse, but also to physical abuse, sex trafficking and other mistreatment of minors.  

Gov. John Bel Edwards must sign the bill for it to become law. Edwards, a devout Catholic, has not been asked about whether he supports the latest version of the legislation yet. 

Both the House and Senate passed the proposal unanimously this week, despite lobbying from insurance companies who represent major institutions like the Catholic Church. 

Lawmakers said the insurance companies and Catholic Church are concerned that the bill — should it become law — could cost them massive amounts of money. It would allow for both class action and individual lawsuits.

Tom Costanza, the lobbyist representing Louisiana’s Catholic bishops in the Capitol, declined to answer questions about the legislation — or clarify whether the bishops were opposed to it Wednesday before the Louisiana House’s final vote. 

He said the Catholic bishops had supported one of the earlier versions of the legislation — when it still restricted lawsuits over past child sexual abuse from coming forward. The bill was worked over in the Senate to remove all age and time limitations on victims coming forward with a claim about current and future abuse. 

Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, also added the amendment on the floor earlier this week allows adult victims of child sex abuse that happened decades ago the three year “lookback” period in which to file a lawsuit if they desire. 

Similar provisions in other states have put financial stress on the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and other large institutions with a history of child abuse. In 2019, at least 15 states had made it easier to sue over sexual abuse, according to the Associated Press, in response to some of these scandals. 

The governor and Attorney General Jeff Landry, also Catholic, have repeatedly resisted calls to launch a statewide investigation in Louisiana into Catholic Church sexual abuse, even as many other states with large Catholic populations have done so. Landry has said, unlike other states’ attorneys general,  he does not have the authority to launch such a probe.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.