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Two Lawsuits Filed Against Catholic Priests and Dioceses Under New Child Sex Abuse Law

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Two lawsuits have been filed against the Baton Rouge Diocese under a new law suspending the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases in Louisiana

Baton Rouge, LANew child sexual abuse lawsuits alleging two Catholic priests sexually abused teens decades ago, along with coverup lawsuits against the Diocese of Baton Rouge and the Diocese of Alexandria in Louisiana, have been filed under a new law that temporarily eliminated the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases.

Jessica Arbour, with Horowitz Law and The Bezou Law Firm and attorney for the plaintiffs believes these lawsuits are the first complaints filed against Msgr. William O’Hanlon at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church and Fr. John Weber at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Baton Rouge. “We filed the first lawsuit [against O’Hanlon].  Now we are doing housekeeping to serve the Diocsese and then we will soon begin discovery,” says Arbour.

Arbour refers to the plaintiffs not as victims but as survivors. “I applaud these survivors for being transparent, and [these complaints are] perfect examples of why window legislation is so important,” says Arbour. “So many people don’t report abuse until later in life.” In the O’Hanlon case, Arbour says that survivor John RH Doe didn’t report that he was sexually abused until he had the wherewithal to come forward. “Because he was given a reprieve from the Statute of Limitations the O’Hanlon name is out there now.”

As of early March, O’Hanlon wasn’t on the Diocese of Alexandria list that includes 28 clergy members it had deemed credibly accused of sexual abuse. Asked why O’Hanlon is yet to be named, Arbour says this could be first charge against him and there may be other charges that are not yet substantiated. “It is on their honor system and he may be on their list soon,” she adds.

Plaintiff John RH Doe alleges he was sexually abused by Msgr. William O’Hanlon between approximately 1966 and 1968, beginning when he was just six or seven years old. “Our client has waited a very long time for the opportunity to seek justice and accountability for those who harmed him when he was a vulnerable child in their care. Thanks to the dedication and action of Louisiana’s lawmakers, he finally has a chance to call those who hurt him to account and we are proud to stand with him today,” stated Arbour in a press release.

John RH Doe v. Diocese of Alexandria, et al is now pending in Nineteenth Judicial Circuit (East Baton Rouge) in Louisiana.

Horowitz Law and The Bezou Law Firm in early March filed another child sexual abuse and coverup lawsuit, this time against the Diocese of Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Plaintiff John DD Doe claims he was sexually abused on multiple occasions by Fr. John Weber at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Baton Rouge. The abuse allegedly took place between 1975 and 1976, beginning when the survivor was about 13 years old. John DD Doe is now 59 years old and lives in Southwest Louisiana. Weber was ordained a Catholic priest by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1945, where he was “credibly accused of abusing at least one child”, according to a press release. When the Diocese of Baton Rouge was created in 1961, he became a priest of that new diocese. In addition to St. Charles Borromeo, Weber also worked at eight other parishes between 1945 and 1995, when he retired. Weber died in 2000.

John D.D. Doe v. The Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, et al (case number: C-716567 Division "31") is now pending in Nineteenth Judicial Circuit in Louisiana. 

Window Legislation

A national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control estimates 12.3% of female rape victims and 27.8% of male rape victims were first raped when they were age 10 or younger. Sadly, the majority of sexual assaults – some studies put the number at 60% – are never reported. Perhaps those numbers will decline with Window Legislation, which allows survivors (aka victims) who were abused as children to file civil claims that would otherwise have been barred by the Statute of Limitations – regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.) “It is critically important in a survivor’s journey to be able to take the steps to get some accountability and take back their power,” explains Arbour. “The reality is that until recently, Statutes of Limitations didn’t reflect the amount of time that it typically takes for a survivor to take that step.” In June 2021, Louisiana lawmakers joined states across the country by opening a three-year window for survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits against those responsible for their abuse. The window remains open until 2024.


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