A Filipina American filmmaker from Hollywood is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over sexual assault she experienced as a child by a Filipino priest.
The suit is said to be the first civil lawsuit against the nation’s largest Catholic diocese since California passed a law giving childhood sexual assault survivors more time to file civil lawsuits.
Aimee Galicia Torres, 34, said that Filipino Catholic priest Fr. Honesto Bayranta Bismonte began sexually abusing her in 1993 when she was just 8 years old. Bismonte, whom Torres knew as ‘Lolo Nes’ or ‘Grandpa Nes,’ continued to sexually assault her until she was 12 years old.
The assault allegedly took place in the home of Torres’ aunt while Bismonte served as a priest in Gardena’s St. Anthony of Padua Church, according to the civil lawsuit filed last week in the LA County Superior Court.
“No matter how much I tried, he was always stronger — pulling me closer and groping me harder,” Torres said at a news conference on Tuesday, November 19.
“I had always wished my aunt would come through the door and stop what was happening to me,” she added. “I carried this big secret for years. I came from a very strict Filipino Catholic upbringing, so how could I tell my family what was going on?”
The lawsuit alleges that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was negligent in the hiring and supervision of Bismonte in that officials knew or should have known about Bismonte’s assault, and failed to act or discipline him, or prevent him from committing future assaults.
Bismonte, now 90-years-old, was ordained in the Philippines in 1954 and moved to Southern California in 1981 where he began working at Catholic churches in Los Angeles, Gardena, and Pomona.
He was arrested and charged in 2002 for sexually molesting two young girls more than 50 times since 1997.
Bistmonte told the LA Times at the time that the allegations came from cultural misunderstanding, and that hugging and physical contact with children was far more accepted in Filipino culture.
In 2003, Bismonte also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to two years of informal probation in Los Angeles.
“Fr. Bismonte ingratiated himself into the Filipino American Community and accessed his victims sometimes in their own homes, under the guise of spiritual direction and assistance to the families,” said Toress’ attorney, Mike Reck.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said that Bismonte was immediately removed from the archdiocese in 2002 when Torres’ reported the misconduct to her high school campus pastor. It said that Bismonte’s name was also added to its list of credibly accused predator priests in 2004.
But Torres’ attorneys are demanding full disclosure by the L.A. archdiocese of Bismonte’s current whereabouts and whether Bismonte is still being protected by archdiocesan officials.
The attorneys further demand full disclosure of the identities and histories of all clergy who have worked in the archdiocese and have been accused of child sexual assault.
Child Victims Act
The suit is said to be the first civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since the Child Victims Act was signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October.
Under the new law, other religious, private, and public organizations are exposed to broader legal liability, as limits are lifted for childhood sexual assault survivors who may have not been able to file civil lawsuits before.
More specifically, the law extends the age limit for which a victim can report a childhood sexual assault from age 26 to age 40.
It further gives victims a three-year window beginning in January 2020, to reopen claims that may have expired due to the former statute of limitations.
On Tuesday, Torres encouraged other Filipinos who may have been victims of sexual assault to come forward and seek justice.
“As a Filipino American, I want to encourage other Filipinos to come forward, to stop sweeping things under the rug, to stop putting these priests on pedestals and to stop making them feel like they’re above the law, because they’re not,” said Torres.
“I felt so powerless, but today I regained my power that Fr. Bismonte took from me so many years ago,” she said. “Now I get this chance to have my day in court.” (Rae Ann Varona / AJPress)