Victims File Lawsuits Accusing Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego Clergy of Sexually Abusing 20

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A rosary is shown in an undated file photo. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A rosary is shown in an undated file photo. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Half a dozen lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego accusing now-deceased clergy of sexually abusing 20 men and women decades ago were filed in Superior Court on Thursday, one day after a new state law lifting the legal time limit on when such lawsuits can be filed went into effect.

The lawsuits are the first of what will likely become a swarm of legal action in the coming months against churches and other institutions such as the Boy Scouts of America over long-ago sexual abuse of minors. Irwin Zalkin, the San Diego lawyer who filed the six lawsuits Thursday, said at a news conference that he plans to file another 60 cases over the next several months against the diocese.

“This is only the beginning,” said Zalkin, the lawyer who spearheaded a $198-million settlement of sexual abuse claims against the diocese in 2007. Those lawsuits, filed under a previous state law that opened a one-year window for claims against institutions for abuse that had occurred years earlier, drove the diocese to declare bankruptcy.

The new wave of litigation is made possible by AB 218, sponsored by San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. The law expands the maximum age at which someone can bring a claim for sexual abuse from 26 years old to 40. It also opened a three-year window for those of any age to revive past claims that may have been prohibited from being filed as lawsuits because the legal time limit to bring such claims, known as the statute of limitations, had run out.

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