A new lawsuit has been filed in Fresno County Superior Court against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno and two of its churches for negligence and sexual battery. Although the plaintiff reported abuse in 2002 and the priest was acquitted, a law that took effect this year means she can still seek damages.
The plaintiff is now 34 years old, and referred to as Jane Doe, since the alleged abuse took place when she was a minor. She says that Father Miguel Flores raped and threatened her in 2001 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Hanford where she worked.
Immaculate Heart is one of the defendants named in the suit; St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in Tranquility, west of Fresno, is the second. The plaintiff was a parishioner at St. Paul's.
The plaintiff reported the abuse to law enforcement in 2002 and Flores was charged with rape, but ultimately acquitted.
“It was thought of that time, priests who molested their parishioners, it was an aberrant priest, as opposed to a problem within the institution,” says Paul Mones, the attorney representing the plaintiff in the new lawsuit. “What we’ve learned now is that there are problems within the institutional supervision, and the institutional response to complaints, and the institutional way in which training is done.”
That’s why the suit alleges that the Diocese was negligent in protecting the client, used negligent hiring and training practices, and by supporting Flores, was complicit in the original sexual battery.
This lawsuit is only possible because of Assembly Bill 218, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed in October. The law took effect this year and removes the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse for the next three years. The law also widened the statute of limitations so that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse have until the age of 40 to file a complaint; previously, they had until the age of 26.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno declined to comment for this story, saying it has not yet been served. However, Flores still worked at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bakersfield up until last year. The Diocese placed him on administrative leave in March, and is reviewing charges of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials dating back to 1922.