A Hollywood Woman Is Suing LA's Catholic Archdiocese Under A New Child Abuse Law
A Filipino American woman from Hollywood who says she was abused by a Catholic priest in Gardena as a child is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The case may be the first civil suit to target the country's largest Catholic diocese since California passed a law last month extending the statute of limitations for child abuse survivors.
Aimee Galicia Torres, 34, says Fr. Honesto Bayranta Bismonte, who she knew as 'Lolo Nes' or 'Grandpa Nes' began sexually abusing her in 1993, when she was 8. The abuse allegedly continued until Torres was 12.
Torres' civil lawsuit, filed in L.A. County Superior Court last week, alleges the abuse took place at her aunt's house while Bismonte was serving as a priest at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Gardena.
"No matter how much I tried, he was always stronger -- pulling me closer and groping me harder," said Torres, at a news conference Tuesday announcing the suit. "I had always wished my aunt would come through the door and stop what was happening to me. I carried this big secret for years. I came from a very strict Filipino Catholic upbringing, so how could I tell my family what was going on?"
Bismonte, who was ordained in the Philippines in 1954, moved to Southern California in 1981 and worked at Catholic churches in Los Angeles, Gardena, and Pomona. In 2002, he was arrested and charged with sexually molesting two little girls more than 50 times since 1997.
In 2003, Bismonte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to two years of informal probation in Los Angeles.
In 2002, Bismonte defended his actions to the LA Times, claiming that hugging and physical contact with children is more accepted in Filipino culture.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles says it hasn't been served with Torres' lawsuit, but says Bismonte was immediately removed from ministry in April 2002 when the archdiocese first learned about misconduct that had been reported by Torres to her high school campus pastor.
The Archdiocese says it reported the matter to law enforcement and made announcements at all of the parishes where Bismonte had served, urging anyone with information to come forward. Bismonte's name was also added to the archdiocese's list of credibly accused predator priests in 2004.
California's Child Victims Act, signed last month by Governor Gavin Newsom, provides many survivors of childhood sexual abuse their first opportunity to file civil lawsuits. The new law exposes not only the Catholic Church to more legal liability, but also private organizations like the Boy Scouts, and public institutions like California school districts.
The law does two main things.
First, it provides a three-year window beginning in January for the revival of past claims that expired due to the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.
Second, it extends the statue of limitations for reporting childhood sexual assault from the time a victim is age 26 to age 40. Torres' lawyers say that provision is already in effect, opening the door for her suit.
"I felt so powerless, but today I regained my power that Fr. Bismonte took from me so many years ago," Torres said. "Now I get this chance to have my day in court."
Torres' lawsuit is expected to be the first of many against California's Catholic Church in the coming years. When California lawmakers suspended the statute of limitations for one year in 2003, hundreds of people sued Catholic dioceses and won big payouts.
Torres' lawsuit alleges L.A.'s archdiocese was negligent in the hiring and supervision of Bismonte, and that Church officials knew or should have known about Bismonte's abuse but didn't act to punish the priest or prevent future abuse.
Now age 90, Bismonte's current whereabouts are unknown.
Torres' lawyers are seeking the archdiocese's disclosure of Bismonte's current whereabouts, and whether he is still protected by Church officials.
"Fr. Bismonte ingratiated himself into the Filipino American Community and accessed his victims sometimes in their own homes, under the guise of spiritual direction and assistance to the families," said Mike Reck, Torres' attorney.
Under California's new law, survivors can come forward anonymously, but Aimee chose to use her real name. She says she hopes her lawsuit forces more transparency from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and encourages other victims within L.A.'s Catholic communities to share their stories.
"As a Filipino American, I want to encourage other Filipinos to come forward, to stop sweeping things under the rug, to stop putting these priests on pedestals and stop making them feel like they're above the law, because they're not."