Camarillo Man Says A Priest Abused Him And He Wants California Catholic Bishops Held Accountable

Tom Emens (in blue) joined Attorney Jeff Anderson and others at a Los Angeles press event to announce the lawsuit against California's Catholic bishops. (Aaron Schrank/LAist)

A Camarillo man who says he was molested by a local priest in Anaheim in the 1970s is suing the state's Catholic bishops for civil conspiracy and nuisance.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Los Angeles Superior Court alleges Catholic officials across California covered up criminal activity by keeping known and suspected abusers in ministry, moving them from church to church and failing to report abuse to police.

At a news conference, plaintiff Tom Emens said his aim is to prevent future abuse.

"If we don't protect the kids going forward, then what are we doing here?" he said.

Emens said he was abused by Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan for two years beginning in 1978, when Emens was 10 years old. The now-deceased priest arrived at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim in the early 1970s from Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

Mohan's name is not among the hundreds released by California Church officials in recent years as having credible accusations of child abuse against them.

"This lawsuit is really the only opportunity I have at this point in time to find justice not just for myself, but to bring all of the victims that are in the shadows out, and to help them moving forward," Emmens said.

California lawmakers voted to approve a bill that would have temporarily removed the statute of limitations from child sex abuse cases, giving people like Emmens their day in court. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure on Sunday.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said the legal advocates aren't looking for financial restitution, but to compel church officials to release records on clergy abuse.

"To force all of the bishops in California to come clean, with the secrets that they know — the identities of the offenders, and the histories of cooperation and complicity by top officials," Anderson said.

Anderson, who's been representing victims of clergy abuse for decades, says he's used public nuisance suits to force disclosures in Minnesota and New York.

"The Catholic bishops in California, in real time, and in the past, have engaged in such dangerous practices that there is and has been a grave peril to children to communities across the state, and to communities around the world where predator priests have been sent," Anderson said.

The California bishops said the state's dioceses have taken positive steps over the past 15 years to protect children from abuse, adopting a "zero tolerance" standard for abuse and independent review boards to advise bishops on personnel decisions.

"These measures have been effective," said California Catholic Conference spokesman Steve Pehanich. "Allegations of abuse have been rare since 2003, responded to and uniformly reported, but we know we can never be complacent. The twelve dioceses of California will never waver in their commitment to protect young people."

The L.A. Archdiocese released a trove of personnel files on predatory priests in 2013, as part of a $660-million legal settlement. It acknowledged its mishandling of abuse allegations, and said officials in the country's largest Catholic archdiocese have been forthcoming with authorities ever since.

"The Archdiocese has acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures and mistakes in the way abuse cases were handled in the past," the Archdiocese said in a statement.

Aside from the suit, the Jeff Anderson and Associates law firm also released a 120-page report detailing clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Most of the material in the report came from the released 2013 files, but the firm's report includes at least 30 names that haven't been named in church documents.

Anderson said the litigation and report were inspired by the grand jury report in Pennsylvania documenting widespread child sexual abuse and coverup across the state.

Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.


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