California's highest court sided with Oakland's Roman Catholic bishop and refused Thursday to reinstate a lawsuit brought by six brothers who allege they were molested by a priest during the 1970s.
The ruling could doom at least eight other pending cases involving decades-old clergy abuse claims.
The California Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the brothers had waited too long to bring their abuse claims involving the priest, Donald Broderson, who was forced to retire amid similar allegations in 1993 and died in 2010.
The state Legislature opened a one-year window for old clergy abuse complaints in 2003, and the men lost their chance to sue the diocese that hired Broderson as an associate pastor in Hayward when that timeframe ended, the court said.
"Although we are unreservedly sympathetic to the plight of persons who were subjected to childhood sexual abuse, we note that the preexisting limitations period, along with the one-year revival period ... afforded victims a very considerable time following the abuse in which to come to maturity, or even middle age, and discover the claim," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the majority.
Catholic dioceses and religious orders in California already have paid more than $1.1 billion since 2006 to settle child abuse lawsuits filed since the church clergy scandal erupted a decade ago.
Lawyers for the brothers in the Oakland case contended the time limit did not apply to the men because they did not make the link between their psychological problems as adults and what happened to them as children until after the filing window closed.