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Sex abuse bill approved Friday

Extends statute of limitations for childhood victims

Posted: September 6, 2013 11:29 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2013 11:29 p.m.
 

After several fits and starts, a bill extending the statute of limitations for some childhood sexual abuse victims was approved by the California Legislature on Friday — paving the way for possible lawsuits against Palma High School in Salinas.

Nine people who say they were abused by priests while attending Palma may be among the first to sue if Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t veto the bill, known as SB 131.

The bill extends the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims.

Seven of the nine former Palma students say they were sexually assaulted by the Rev. Gerald Funcheon when he was a chaplain at the school from 1984-85. Funcheon, who is still a priest but is housed in a secure “treatment” facility, admitted in sworn testimony last year that he molested one of the men, but denied the others.

The two other alleged victims say they were molested by Brother Marcos Chavira and the late Brother Jerome Heustis.

So far, none of the nine has sued the school, and Palma spokesman Kevin Elliot said Friday he had not heard of any out-of-court legal settlements.

Attorney Michael Pfau, who represents the nine men, said some settlement talks had taken place but haven’t gotten far.

He did vow to go through with filing lawsuits for all nine against Palma if the new law goes into effect as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2014, and said there may be more plaintiffs.

Palma historically has been affiliated with the Irish Christian Brothers, which in March announced a massive settlement with alleged abuse victims. But because Palma is a separate corporation, its assets were not included in the settlement.

Still, the nine alleged Palma victims were included among 400 people who will share the $18 million settlement because the priests who allegedly abused them worked for the Irish Christian Brothers.

The new legislation in California was proposed in response to a current statute that bars civil action after a victim of child molestation turns 26.

Under the new bill, a victim could file a lawsuit against an institution responsible for employing a child molester up to age 30, or five years from when that victim discovers his or her adult psychological problems are related to the abuse — whichever is later.

 

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