March 14, 2020
What could possibly go wrong?
VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Francis urged Catholic priests on Tuesday (March 10) to “have the courage” to go out and help those sickened by the coronavirus, hours after Italy was placed on a nationwide lockdown.
“Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and visit the sick… and to accompany the medical staff and volunteers in the work they do,” the pontiff said during a mass in Vatican City.
St Peter’s Square in the Vatican – in the centre of the Italian capital Rome – was almost empty on Tuesday, with only a few dozen people walking around, most of them without masks.
December 1, 2019
The Vatican has been accused of harbouring a bishop wanted for alleged sex abuse offences, as Pope Francis railed against the evils of sexual exploitation on a visit to Thailand.
Prosecutors in Argentina have issued an international arrest warrant for Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who is accused of sexually abusing young trainee priests, known as seminarians. He denies the charges.
Bishop Zanchetta, 55, who is close to his fellow Argentine Pope Francis, lives in the Vatican.
Not only that, he reportedly resides in Casa Santa Marta, an accommodation block in the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica where Francis has lived ever since his election six years ago.
Argentinian prosecutors have complained that the bishop has failed to respond to repeated emails and telephone calls about the abuse allegations, which were made last year by two young seminarians. The trainee priests also accused him of mismanagement of the diocese’s finances and abuse of power.
If convicted, the bishop would face up to 10 years in prison, but there is no extradition treaty between Argentina and the Vatican and for now he seems to be safely ensconced in Rome.
The stand-off emerged as Pope Francis made an impassioned speech in Bangkok on behalf of victims of sex trafficking, prompting accusations of a double standard in the Catholic Church’s stance on sex crimes.
“Despite being suspended from ministry, the Vatican has argued that Zanchetta’s ‘daily work’ requires him to be in Rome instead of facing trial in Argentina. This decision is at best questionable and at worst a Vatican-sponsored opportunity for Zanchetta to flee from justice,” said Zach Hiner, the executive director of victims’ pressure group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“If Pope Francis was serious about his “all-out battle” against cases of clergy abuse, he would order Zanchetta to return to Argentina and face the allegations against him.”
Anne Barrett Doyle, of BishopAccountability.org, which documents the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, said: “It’s vital that Pope Francis ensures Zanchetta’s full cooperation with Argentine civil authorities. To do otherwise would put the Pope in violation of his own decree forbidding conduct by bishops that interferes with civil investigations.
“Francis must begin to set an example – especially because his protectiveness toward Zanchetta to date already raises disturbing questions about his commitment to ending complicity by Church officials.
“Francis should not have given Zanchetta safe harbour in the first place, given the bishop’s reported wrongdoing in Argentina.”
During an open air Mass in Bangkok on Thursday, he urged greater efforts in combating what he called the “humiliation” of women and children forced into prostitution.
Earlier, in a speech delivered at the office of the Thai prime minister, the Pope called for greater international commitment to protect women and children “who are violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.”
Except, of course, the pope’s friends who can do whatever they like without consequences.
September 30, 2019
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a New York City bishop who was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1980s, the Vatican said Thursday.
Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik denied the allegation when it was first brought to the New York City archdiocese last year. He nevertheless stopped public ministry and moved out of his Bronx parish.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the archdiocese’s lay review board had found the allegation to be “credible and substantiated,” and he turned the case over to the Holy See for further investigation, since only the pope can decide a bishop’s fate.
Jenik turned 75 in March, the normal retirement age for bishops. As a result, it wasn’t immediately clear if Vatican made any determination about the abuse allegation.
For decades, the Vatican turned a blind eye to bishops and cardinals who raped and molested children and adults or covered up the crimes.
It was Dolan’s archdiocese that received complaints about sexual misconduct by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, cases that launched a new reckoning in the U.S. Catholic Church hierarchy.
September 28 2019
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of a New Zealand bishop over what church officials said was his “completely unacceptable” sexual behavior with a young woman.
Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan, 59, had offered to resign following an independent investigation into the woman’s complaint, according to a statement from Cardinal John Dew, head of the church in New Zealand.
The Vatican said Friday that the pope had accepted the resignation.
The removal is significant since the Catholic Church has long considered sexual relationships between clerics and adult women to be sinful and inappropriate, but not criminal or necessarily worthy of permanent sanction.
However, the #MeToo movement and the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, an American defrocked by Francis for sexual misconduct, have forced a reckoning about the imbalance of power in relationships between clerics and lay adults, nuns and seminarians _ and whether such relationships can ever be consensual.
Drennan was a member of the New Zealand church team of priests and sisters selected to respond to the country’s Royal Commission inquiry into sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in state and faith-based care between 1950-1999. His status on the team wasn’t immediately clear.
Drennan is well under the normal retirement age of 75 for bishops. Ordained a priest in 1996, he worked for seven years in the Vatican’s secretariat of state before being made a bishop in 2011. He took over as the head of the Palmerston North diocese a year later.
More recently, he was elected secretary of the New Zealand bishops’ conference and was a delegate at a 2015 meeting of the world’s bishops on the family.
Dew said the woman made a complaint, and the New Zealand church’s investigative body contracted an outside investigator to evaluate her claim. Both Drennan and the woman participated in the investigation.
Details of their relationship were not released. The woman asked for information from the complaint to remain private, Dew said. He added, however, that “In the eyes of the Catholic Church, Bishop Drennan’s behavior was completely unacceptable.”
Dew praised the woman for coming forward, said she had been told of Drennan’s resignation and is continuing to receive support from the church as well as her family. He urged others to bring reports of clergy misconduct to the church.
July 26, 2019
VATICAN CITY—Telling the youth organization that if they come for the king they best not miss, the Catholic Church announced Thursday that it was not about to be out-molested by the goddamn Boy Scouts.
“If some pissant organization like the Scouts thinks they can beat us at the molestation game, then they have another fucking thing coming,” said Pope Francis, directing his message to the Scouts’ leaders as he stressed that a couple thousand piddling cases was a drop in the bucket compared to the generations of sexual abuse that had made the Catholic Church number-one in molestation for centuries on end.
“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of parishioners, children, and nuns abused by the people they trust most. Plus, we’re not doing it while hiding out in the woods like a bunch of cowards. We’re just at the back of the church, putting up huge numbers on the board day after day. So don’t come at us with this weak-ass shit, Boy Scouts.
We’re the OG diddlers around here.” At press time, the Catholic Church had offered to send a few dozen priests to the Boy Scouts of America to show them how it’s done.
Our thanks to theonion.com for this article.
July 10, 2019
Pope Francis has declared that a late US television preacher once performed a miracle, moving him one step closer to sainthood.
Another lame attempt to try to keep the illusion going.
The Vatican announced on Saturday the formal approval of the miracle, thought to relate to claims about a baby’s extraordinary recovery in an Illinois hospital.
The Diocese of Peoria believes that Archbishop Fulton J Sheen – who died in 1979 – interceded in 2010 on behalf of a baby who began breathing 61 minutes after showing no signs of life at birth.
One miracle allows a candidate for sainthood to be beatified in the Catholic faith, but a second miracle must be approved in order for sainthood to be conferred.
No date has been given for his beatification ceremony, but the Peoria Diocese said it was beginning preparations for the celebration in the central Illinois city.
Archbishop Sheen’s on-air evangelism made him a well-known figure in the US over several decades, having started on NBC radio in 1930 with a weekly programme called The Catholic Hour.
He expanded to television in 1950 with NBC’s Life is Worth Living, regularly amassing more than 30 million viewers.
The pope’s decision comes just weeks after a New York court ruling allowing the American archbishop’s niece to bury him in Peoria, where he was ordained, ending years of litigation and allowing the process for sainthood to resume.
May 10, 2019
Because self-policing has worked so well in the past. Oh, wait…
The pope continues to be a major part of the problem.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking new church law Thursday requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities, in a new effort to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for failing to protect their flocks.
The law provides whistleblower protections for anyone making a report and requires all dioceses to have a system in place to receive the claims confidentially. And it outlines internal procedures for conducting preliminary investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal or religious superior.
Abuse victims and their advocates said the law was a step forward, but not enough since it doesn’t require the crimes to be reported to police and essentially tasks discredited bishops who have mishandled abuse for decades with policing their own.
It’s the latest effort by Francis to respond to the global sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has devastated the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy and his own papacy. And it provides a new legal framework for U.S. bishops as they prepare to adopt accountability measures next month to respond to the scandal there.
“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s longtime sex crimes prosecutor. “They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported.”
The decree requires the world’s 415,000 Catholic priests and 660,000 nuns to tell church authorities when they learn or have “well-founded motives to believe” a cleric or sister has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct with an adult, possession of child pornography — or that a superior has covered up any of those crimes.
It doesn’t require them to report to police, however. The Vatican has long argued that different legal systems make a universal reporting law impossible, and that imposing one could endanger the church in places where Catholics are a persecuted minority. But the procedures do for the first time put into universal law that victims cannot be silenced, that clergy must obey civil reporting requirements where they live, and that their obligation to report to the church in no way interferes with that.
The global victims group Ending Clergy Abuse, or ECA, said the Vatican shouldn’t hide behind the argument that mandatory reporting to police is a problem in some countries.
“The church should establish the law for reporting and justify the exception,” said ECA’s Peter Iseley. “Instead, they are using the exception as a pretext for not reporting sexual abuse to civil authorities and to keep abuse secret.”
If implemented fully, though, the Vatican could well see an avalanche of abuse and cover-up reports. The decree can be applied retroactively, meaning priests and nuns are now required to report even old cases of sexual wrongdoing and cover-ups — and enjoy whistleblower protections for doing so.
Previously such reporting was left to the conscience of individual priests and nuns.
Canon lawyer Kurt Martens called the new law “revolutionary” by making sex abuse of minors and adults, as well as official cover-ups, subject to mandatory reporting.
“We owe gratitude to Pope Francis for this universal law of the Church, ensuring that a victim who wishes to tell his or her story cannot be silenced,” Martens tweeted.
Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability praised some of the provisions but said they weren’t enough, primarily because there were no sanctions envisaged for violations, and because the process remained entirely internal.
“Bishops watching bishops does not work,” she said.
While there are no punitive measures foreseen for noncompliance, bishops and religious superiors could be accused of cover-up or negligence if they fail to implement the provisions or retaliate against priests and nuns who make reports against them.
The law defines the crimes that must be reported as: performing sexual acts with a minor or vulnerable person; forcing an adult “by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts”; and the production, possession or distribution of child pornography. Cover-up is defined as “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” civil or canonical investigations.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, said the inclusion of sex crimes involving adults was a clear reference to cases of sexual abuse of nuns and seminarians by their superiors — a scandal that has exploded recently following reports, including by The Associated Press and the Vatican’s own women’s magazine, of sisters being sexually assaulted by priests.
The pope mandated that victims reporting abuse must be welcomed, listened to and supported by the hierarchy, as well as offered spiritual, medical and psychological assistance.
The law says victims can’t be forced to keep quiet, even though the investigation itself is still conducted under pontifical secret. And in a novelty, the law requires that if victims request it, they must be told of the outcome of the investigation — again a response to complaints that victims are kept in the dark about how their claims were handled.
Victims and their advocates have long complained that bishops and religious superiors have escaped justice for having engaged in sexual misconduct themselves, or failed to protect their flocks from predator priests. Bishops and religious superiors are accountable only to the pope, and only a handful have ever been sanctioned or removed for sex abuse or cover-up, and usually only after particularly egregious misbehavior became public.
Last summer, the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick epitomized the trend: McCarrick rose to the heights of the Catholic hierarchy even though he had credible allegations of sexual misconduct with adults against him that the Vatican had received. Francis defrocked McCarrick this year after a U.S. church investigation determined he sexually abused minors as well as adult seminarians.
The new procedures call for any claim of sexual misconduct or cover-up against a bishop, religious superior or Eastern Rite patriarch to be reported to the Holy See and the metropolitan bishop, who is a regular diocesan bishop also responsible for a broader geographic area than his dioceses alone.
Unless the metropolitan bishop finds the claim “manifestly unfounded,” he must immediately ask permission from the Vatican to open a preliminary investigation and must hear back from Rome within 30 days — a remarkably fast turnaround for the lethargic Holy See. The metropolitan bishop then has an initial 90 days to conduct the investigation, though extensions are possible.
The law makes clear he can use lay experts to help, a key provision that is already used in many dioceses. And it recommends that a special fund be set up to pay for the investigations, particularly in poorer parts of the world.
Once the investigation is over, the metropolitan sends the results to the Vatican for a decision on how to proceed.
The new law requires Vatican offices to share information throughout the process, since an untold number of cases have fallen through the cracks, thanks to the silo-like nature of the Holy See bureaucracy.
The procedures published Thursday are likely to form a key legal framework for U.S. bishops when they meet in Baltimore June 11-13 to adopt new accountability procedures, though it will certainly force them to scrap their existing proposals and make them conform to the new law.
April 22, 2019
Could anything be more ironic? The pope, the master of bling, telling people to reject glitter. We here at fuckthepope.com are laughing our collective asses off.
“Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but leaves behind only solitude and death,” the pope said.
April 12, 2019
Really?!? Hippies are to blame? And the abuses prior to the 60s?
Ex-Pope Benedict XVI says the sexual revolution of the 1960s is to answer for child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The former pope wrote in an essay that “absence of God” was behind acts of pedophilia.
Former Pope Benedict XVI has blamed the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal on the 1960s sexual revolution, growing secularization and weak church laws that protected priests in an essay published Thursday.
“Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom … Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate,” he wrote in the 6,000-word essay for Klerusblatt, a German monthly magazine for clergy.
“Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God,” he wrote, noting failed attempts to include a reference to God in European Union treaties as a negative example of Western secularization
Benedict, born in Germany as Joseph Ratzinger, cited the appearance of sex in films in the ’60s in his native Bavaria and the formation of “homosexual cliques” in seminaries “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate.” He also attributed it to failures in moral theology in that era.
Abuse scandals in Ireland, Chile, Australia, France, the United States, Poland, Germany and elsewhere have seen the Church pay out billions of dollars in damages to victims and close parishes, with many cases dating back decades before the 1960s.
The Vatican has been embroiled in the scandals. Most recently with the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, who was sentenced to six years in jail for abusing two boys in his native Australia.
Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope in six centuries to resign, also faulted church laws that protected accused priests.
He wrote that during the 1980s and 1990s “the right to a defense (for priests) was so broad as to make a conviction nearly impossible.”
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict led reforms of those laws in 2001 to make it easier to remove priests who abused children.
He took a hard line against clerical sex abuse as the Vatican’s conservative doctrine chief, and later as pope, defrocking hundreds of priests accused of raping and molesting children.
Benedict wrote in the introduction to the essay that Francis and the Vatican secretary of state had given him permission to publish. The Vatican also confirmed it was written by Benedict.
Writing in the Catholic Herald, associate professor of theology at The Catholic University of America Chat Pecknold praised the essay as a necessary word from “the voice of a father” that accurately identified an absence of God as the reason for the crisis.
But other church analysts said the essay was both flawed in content and exacerbated existing divisions in the church that have emerged between supporters of Francis and Catholics nostalgic for Benedict’s doctrine-minded papacy.
“It is catastrophically irresponsible, because it creates a counter-narrative to how Francis is trying to move ahead based on the 2019 summit,” Church historian Christopher Bellitto told The Associated Press in an email. “The essay essentially ignores what we learned there.”
Villanova University theologian Massimo Faggioli said the essay was thin in its analysis, which effectively attributed the scandal to the sexual revolution. He said it excluded key cases, such as the Legion of Christ founder’s pedophilia, which began long before then and involved abuse in one of the most rigorously orthodox, conservative religious orders.
“Everything we know in the global history of the Catholic abuse crisis makes Benedict XVI’s take published yesterday very thin or worse: a caricature of what happened during in the Catholic Church during the post-Vatican II period with all its ingenuities and some tragic mistakes,” he tweeted.
“This is an embarrassing letter. The idea that ecclesial abuse of children was a result of the 1960s, a supposed collapse of moral theology, and ‘conciliarity’ is an embarrassingly wrong explanation for the systemic abuse of children and its coverup,” Brian Flanagan, a theologian at Marymount University in Virginia, tweeted.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis has issued wide-ranging new sex abuse legislation that covers all Vatican personnel as well as those who work for the Vatican diplomatic corps. It aims to be a model for the church globally.
A special government inquiry on child sex abuse in Germany has demanded more dialogue on the subject after presenting its findings in Berlin. More than 80 percent of victims who spoke to the inquiry were women.
Pope Francis issues sweeping sex abuse legislation 29.03.2019
At the Vatican, Pope Francis has issued wide-ranging new sex abuse legislation that covers all Vatican personnel as well as those who work for the Vatican diplomatic corps. It aims to be a model for the church globally.
Fuck Ratzinger and fuck the current pope.
March 13, 2019
Pell, who served as the Vatican treasurer and was once part of Pope Francis’ inner circle, is the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church to be convicted of child sexual assault.
He was convicted of five counts at a hearing in December, but the media were prohibited from reporting about the details of the case due to a broad gag order meant to protect the integrity of the trial. He faced a total of 10 years in prison for each of those charges.
Pell, 77, will be eligible for parole in three years and six months and, if released, will be required to register as a sex offender for life. Judge Peter Kidd cited the cardinal’s advanced age and various health issues in considering his sentence.
“Each year you spend in custody will represent a substantial portion of your remaining life expectancy,” Kidd said Wednesday.
The sentenced stems from two incidents in the 1990s when Pell was the newly appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. He was accused of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old altar boys shortly after Sunday Mass, including an instance when Pell forced one of the boys to perform oral sex on him. During a separate incident, Pell was accused of grabbing a boy’s genitals.
A unanimous jury found him guilty of five counts of sexual abuse. Pell has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and his lawyers have said they would appeal the conviction.
During the sentencing, Kidd said that, in his view, Pell’s “conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance” and called the actions “grave” and brazen.
“The argument of your counsel that this offending was committed by you, George Pell the man, and not by you, George Pell the archbishop, must be roundly rejected,” Kidd noted. “I do so without hesitation.”
One of the men who was abused by Pell released a statement through his lawyer after the verdict was handed down, saying the judge was “meticulous” in his ruling. But, he noted, it was “hard … for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome.”
“I appreciate that the Court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child,” the unnamed victim’s said through his attorney, Vivian Waller. “However, there is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal.”
He added: “Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.”
March 8, 2019
Lyon (AFP) – The archbishop of Lyon, the most senior French Catholic cleric caught up in the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the church, was convicted of helping covering up abuse and handed a six-month suspended jail term on Thursday.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was not in court, was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015.
His lawyers announced immediately that he would appeal the judgement.
“The reasoning of the court is not convincing,” lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters. “We will contest this decision by all the means possible.”
Barbarin, 68, faced long-standing allegations from victims’ groups that he failed to report a priest under his authority to police after learning of abuse which took place in the 1980s and 90s.
But prosecutors judged that those crimes were beyond the statute of limitations — meaning they were too old to prosecute — and declined to press charges.
During the trial, victims accused Barbarin of being aware of the abuse allegations from at least 2010 and then trying to cover up the scandal, under orders from the Vatican, from 2015.
Francois Devaux, who leads a victim’s group in Lyon, called Thursday’s verdict a “major victory for child protection.”
The Catholic Church has been roiled in recent years by claims against priests which have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to go public with evidence.
Clerics have been denounced in countries as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the United States, leading Pope Francis to promise to rid the church of a scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.
March 1, 2019
The cases, which will number in the many hundreds at least, will lay bare new details of past horrors and could push some of New York’s diocese to the brink of bankruptcy.
Unknown to many, the Catholic Church is a group of franchises, not unlike McDonald’s. The Vatican is financially immune from the debts of the parishes.
A new wave of allegations against Roman Catholic clergy will emerge in New York as a result of the new Child Victims Act. Matthew Leonard, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. After decades of anguish and argument over sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, a final reckoning may be coming for New York parishioners.
Over the last quarter century, sexual abuse allegations, some of them horrendous, have been lodged in fits and starts against more than 400 priests and others associated with the church in New York state. The church hierarchy has been accused of concealing the truth about sexual misconduct as well.
But the number of past accusations and admissions pale in comparison to what’s happening today, and what will happen in the months ahead. The Democrat and Chronicle has found this confluence of events:
- More than 1,260 sexual abuse claims have been resolved and at least $228 million paid in compensation over the last two years under a systematic reconciliation program adopted by New York’s eight Catholic dioceses. Rochester is lagging, however, and has resolved about a half-dozen claims. By contrast, Ogdensburg, in less-populous St. Lawrence County, has already settled 39.
- A wave of lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy will begin arriving soon in New York courtrooms and peak starting this summer. Big law firms are flocking to New York to take advantage of a new state law that eases stringent limits on who can file such suits.
- The cases, which will number in the many hundreds at least, will lay bare new details of past horrors and could push some of New York’s diocese to the brink of bankruptcy. What may be the first suit brought under the new law, filed Friday in Buffalo, is seeking $300 million for a single victim.
- The state Attorney General’s investigation of church sexual abuse has given investigators access to private diocesan records that will document still more instances of sexual misconduct and could well reveal past efforts by church officials to shield abusive clergy from discovery.
Combined, the three initiatives will provide a painful yet welcome opportunity for victims of sexual abuse to grievances against priests that have festered for decades.
Colleen O’Hara Carney and her sister say they were abused more than 45 years ago by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Peter Conroy, a Rochester native who was a member of their extended family. His behavior including touching, grabbing and groping the girls when they were adolescents.
The family later reported the acts to the Jesuits and to the diocese of Buffalo, where Conroy was assigned in the early 2000s. At least one other complaint was made by a young woman who encountered Conroy on a college campus, Carney said.
Decades later, Carney is still troubled. “It keeps rearing its ugly head. He did this to me, and it’s been following me my whole life,” said Carney, who is 60 years old.
Earlier this week she signed the paperwork authorizing a lawsuit be filed against Conroy and the Jesuits.
“I just want acknowledgment,” said Carney, who added she hopes legal action will hold Conroy and his order to account, alleviate some of the anguish that she and her family feel and support the people who have worked to bring the church’s secrets to light.
The church’s reconciliation program is private, though victims are free to speak about their cases. Litigation can play out beyond public view as well, and the extent of the information that will be released by Attorney General Letitia James is unknown.
But advocates for sexual-abuse victims say they’re confident the flood of settled claims, lawsuits and the attorney general’s probe will reveal much.
“Because the doors of the courthouse have been locked, the information about what the dioceses knew and when they knew it, that remains under lock and key. The new law, frankly, is going to blow that door open. The survivors can share their stories,” said J. Michael Reck, a lawyer with a Minnesota firm that specializes in clergy abuse cases and has an office in New York City.
“We’re going to be able to crack open those secret archives,” Reck said. “I think what we know right now is a drop in the bucket. I think we’re going to find out a lot more.”
For decades, the rock on which child sexual abuse lawsuits foundered was New York’s statute of limitations.
These laws limit the amount of time that can elapse between an act of abuse and a lawsuit seeking damages for that act. There are statutes of limitations for crimes as well.
The underlying idea of a limitation is to ensure the best evidence and witnesses are available when the lawsuit is filed. But New York’s limitations for claims of child sexual abuse were among the most severe in the country.
Consider what happened with three high-profile civil actions filed against the Rochester diocese and its clergy:
- A Rochester woman filed suit in 1993 accusing Brother John Laurence Heathwood, a popular teacher and theater director at Bishop Kearney High School, of sexually assaulting her beginning in the late 1960s, when she was a student at the Irondequoit school. She said the attacks continued for years and included threats and coercion and left her unable to conceive children.
- At least six former altar boys sued the Rev. Albert Cason in 2002, claiming he sexually abused them in the 1960s while he served at St. John the Evangelist Church in Spencerport and at St. Patrick’s Church in Owego, Tioga County. He was accused of abusing boys on overnight camping trips and at a drive-in movie.
- Ten men filed a joint lawsuit in 2002 against the Rev. Robert F. O’Neill, accusing the once-popular priest of “sexual exploitation.” He allegedly molested numerous young teens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, often on trips to his cottage in Jefferson County.
In each of those cases, lawyers had what they believed was credible evidence that the plaintiffs had been sexually abused and left deeply scarred.
But they never had the opportunity to present that evidence in court. Each of the cases was dismissed out of hand, at least in part because the plaintiffs had waited too long to bring suit.
State law then required that most civil actions for such abuse be filed before the victim reaches age 23, and in some cases earlier than that. In each of the three high-profile cases, the plaintiffs were in their 40’s.
Experts say that gap in time between violation and litigation is common among victims of child sexual abuse. Many of them don’t come to terms with their injury until middle age.
“Some say the usual age of revelation is about 50,” said Robert Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, a support group for survivors of sexual abuse. “A victim only comes forward when they have the ‘tools’ to reveal the abuse.”
For that reason, multimillion-dollar jury awards against abusive priests and their dioceses have been rare in New York compared to other states with more liberal statutes of limitations.
But now the law has changed.
The Child Victims Act, which went into effect earlier this month, sets new and more relaxed time limits on civil actions. Victims of child sexual abuse now will be able to bring suit at any time before they reach the age of 55.
In addition, the law created a one-year window of time during which anyone may file suit over childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred or the age of the accuser.