Sunday 21 April 2024

Louisiana High Court: It’s Priests’ “Right” Not to Be Sued for Abuse

The Louisiana Supreme Court has decided to strip sexual assault survivors of an avenue of justice, ruling 3–4 that it’s the due process rights of priests and their enablers to not be held accountable in instances of sexual assault.

The case, Bienvenu v. Diocese of Lafayette, was brought by Douglas Bienvenu and several other plaintiffs who claimed they were sexually molested by a Roman Catholic priest during the 1970s, when they were between the ages of 8 and 14. 

But in its majority opinion issued on March 22, the court argued that while the facts of the case were largely undisputed, the priest—and the religious institution he was a part of—was actually protected under the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause, which says that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”

“Given these constitutional limitations, the issue presented by this case turns on whether the revival provisions operate to disturb defendants’ vested rights,” wrote Louisiana Justice James Genovese, specifying that “we are constrained to find the statutory enactment is contrary to the due process protections enshrined in our constitution and must yield to that supreme law.”

The Louisiana Child Victims Act, according to the court, “cannot be retroactively applied to revive plaintiffs’ prescribed causes of action” on the basis that such an action would “divest defendants of their vested right to plead prescription.”

The Louisiana legislature passed the act in 2021 to establish a “look-back” window for sexual assault victims. The legislation provided victims of sexual abuse crimes from any period with an opportunity to pursue justice against their alleged abusers, so long as they filed their lawsuits before June 2024. But the  court effectively ruled that the look-back window was actually unconstitutional

Louisiana is not the only state to repeal such a law. Courts in Utah and Colorado also found similar look-back windows to be unconstitutional, and other windows across the country continue to be challenged due to the complications of prosecuting crimes with minimal evidence and which may have taken place decades in the past.