Attorneys suing the Diocese of San Bernardino on behalf of a man who claims he was sexually abused as a child by a priest in Hemet alleged today that the clergyman was one of dozens permitted to have a free hand with children for decades.
During a news briefing in Riverside, attorney Mike Reck said the civil action filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court is one of multiple lawsuits submitted statewide under the auspices of a law that takes effect Wednesday -- Assembly Bill 218, known as the "California Child Victims Act."
"The law catapults California to the forefront of child protection," Reck said. "It addresses the cover-up of child sexual assault and provides that not only the abuser can be sued, but those who covered it up can be sued. It directs a change in behavior of institutions, liked this (San Bernardino) Diocese, which time and time again placed their reputation and secrecy over the safety of children."
Requests for comment from the diocese were not immediately answered.
AB 218 opens a three-year window in which abuse victims can take civil action against religious and other institutions where children were allegedly molested, and the offenses concealed. If a jury finds that an institution conspired to shield abusers and hide crimes, the damage awards can be tripled, under the new law.
"This is to deter behavior and make institutions charged with the care of children change and do the right thing," Reck said. "They do not always do the right thing (until) brave survivors call them out on the decisions they've made."
Nick Flores alleges that Father Louis Perreault molested him while he was under the now-retired priest's supervision at Our Lady of the Valley in Hemet. The alleged assaults occurred in the early 1990s, when Flores was between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the plaintiff.
"This is the first step for me getting my life back," he said, fighting tears. "Many years I've shriveled. But I want people to know these things did happen, have happened. I want to do everything I can to ensure they do not happen again."
The monetary damages being sought were not specified.
Reck said Perreault was active in the priesthood from 1962 to the early 2000s, and he "had access to children in the Inland Empire from 1988 to 2000."
Court papers allege that the priest belonged to an order variously known as the Holy Ghost Fathers or the Holy Spirit Fathers. According to Reck, Perreault is believed to be residing at a Catholic Church retirement home in Pennsylvania, with no known restrictions on his movement.
Reck alleged Perreault likely victimized other children in his parish, suggesting that diocese officials looked the other way. The diocese earlier this year included the priest in a growing list of clergyman suspected of perpetrating abuse going back to the mid-1960s.
"The Diocese of San Bernardino was the end of the road for predator priests," alleged Joelle Casteix, an abuse survivor and nationally recognized advocate for victims. "It was a dumping ground for men the Catholic Church knew were sexually abusing children. By coming forward, survivors are not just talking about what happened to them, but they're exposing a network of abuse and cover-up."
In the summer of 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury found credible evidence that more than 300 priests nationwide had been involved in the alleged sexual abuse of roughly 1,000 children. That set in motion efforts by several states to modify the statute of limitations on child sex crimes, giving victims an opportunity to come forward decades after they were allegedly assaulted.
In response, the San Bernardino Diocese released its first list of suspect priests, some of whom are deceased, in the fall of 2018. An amended list was published over the summer.
Bishop Gerald Barnes acknowledged "credible allegations of sexual abuse" by around 40 priests.
"When we read this list, we are pained to think of the many lives that were impacted by the sinful and unlawful acts of these priests," Barnes said in September. "I again offer my apologies and my deepest regrets to those who were victimized by the men on the list. Apologies at this point can seem hollow, and I regret that because I can imagine how painful this has been in the lives of many victims."
The diocese has a victim compensation fund available. Individuals with prospective claims are encouraged to contact administrators at 844-589-8764.
The law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates last week announced similar lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange. Along with the San Bernardino Diocese, suits were announced today against Catholic ministries in Santa Rosa and San Francisco, and additional suits will be announced elsewhere in the state throughout the week.