A lawsuit against the Diocese of Lafayette can move forward, an appeals court decided.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeal denied a challenge to a lower court ruling that allowed a lawsuit against the Diocese over a sexual assault that happened years ago to move forward under a recent Louisiana law. The law took effect in 2021, and gave child abuse victims a three-year window to file suit against anyone involved in their abuse, regardless of how long ago the abuse happened. If anyone was convicted in criminal court, there's no time limit at all under the new law. Previous law allowed people to file suit for ten years after their 18th birthday.
“Last year, the Louisiana legislature and Governor Edwards unanimously agreed that for a period of three years, survivors of child sexual abuse will face no statute of limitations," said Richard Trahant, who represents the plaintiff. "Since then, Judge Lori Hulin and now three judges on the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal have found that the law is constitutional and applies no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. This ruling is a victory for all sexual abuse survivors in the State of Louisiana. We expect that the Diocese of Lafayette will continue to fight this law, and in doing so, continue to fight child-rape victims tooth and nail.”
We've reached out to the Diocese, but in general they do not comment on pending litigation.
The suit in question, filed by a man identified as "Sam Doe" in the public record, was filed against the Diocese over a sexual assault that took place in the 1960s. The man says he was an "obedient child" and a "devout Catholic" when, the suit alleges, he was sexually assaulted by a priest, Fr. Stanley Begnaud.
At the time of the assault Begnaud was pastor of the church in Berwick that the boy and his family attended, the suit alleges. It calls Begnaud "a diseased pedophile" who was never removed from ministry despite numerous complaints, and despite being identified as a "known pedophile" in diocese records. Begnaud retired and died at the age of 63 in the 1990s, the suit alleges.
Sam Doe was under the care of a therapist when he finally became aware in 2019 that he had been sexually assaulted, and that his abuser was Begnaud, the suit alleges.
The suit was filed in 2020.
The diocese's response was to file an exception, alleging that the suit had to be dismissed because the plaintiff's claim had prescribed - in other words, the plaintiff had taken too long to file the lawsuit.
But after a hearing in January, the judge denied that exception. In her reasons, the judge wrote that a Louisiana law that gave sexual assault victims a three-year window to file suits in connection with incidents that happened years ago. This suit falls under that law, the judge decided.
The diocese appealed the judgment to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. The Third Circuit denied the appeal, saying they found "no error in the trial court's ruling."