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Archdiocese of Chicago and California’s Catholic bishops targeted in sex abuse

Tom Emens, left, who was sexually abused by a priest, speaks on his experience next to attorney Jeff Anderson on Oct. 2, 2018 in Los Angeles. Anderson is holding a photograph of Emens as a boy next to the priest who abused him, Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan. Survivors of clergy sexual assault announced the filing of a nuisance lawsuit against California Roman Catholic bishops for covering up abuse. | AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

LOS ANGELES — A man who claims he was sexually abused decades ago by his parish priest said Tuesday he is suing all Catholic bishops in California and the Archdiocese of Chicago, seeking to compel church officials to release records on clergy abuse.

The filing Monday in Los Angeles by Thomas Emens claims a civil conspiracy among church officials to cover up clergy sexual assault and move offending priests to other parishes.

Emens said at a news conference that he was abused for two years starting in 1978 when he was 10 years old by Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan. The priest, who is deceased, arrived at St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim in the early 1970s from Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said the goal of the so-called “nuisance” lawsuit is to force the church to reveal the names of all priests accused of child molestation. He said church documents would reveal a “playbook” among bishops and other officials to protect offending clergy by keeping files under wraps and moving the priests across the country and, in some cases, out of the U.S.

The lawsuit asks a judge “to abate the continuing nuisance” of abuse by ordering each diocese to name all accused priests, detail their history of alleged assault and identify their last known addresses.

A call seeking comment from officials at the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, which oversees the state’s 12 dioceses, was not immediately returned. A call to the Archdiocese of Chicago was also not returned Tuesday.

The court filing invokes both public and private statutes of nuisance law in California. Such laws generally involve behavior that negatively affects a community or interferes with the use and enjoyment of private property, said John Nockleby, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Alleging nuisance violations in relation to past sexual abuse by a single priest is a “creative approach” by Emens’ lawyers, said Nockleby, adding that it will be very difficult to prove in court.

Criminal charges are not feasible in this case because they would fall outside California’s statute of limitations.