What is The Catholic Church Doing About Sexual Abuse?
What is The Catholic Church Doing About Sexual Abuse?
Sep 28, 2020
Academic scholars, victim advocates, and sexual abuse attorneys have declared the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis a case study in institutional failure. The Catholic Church says they are more committed than ever to the safety of children, citing the creation of mandatory reporting and zero-tolerance policies. They have also reportedly formed committees, and taken various initiatives to reiterate their efforts through background screening and Safe Environment training.
What the Catholic Church doesn’t tell you about their response to a veritable sexual abuse crisis that has led to an epidemic, however, is the extreme lengths they have gone to cover-up abuse allegations and protect their assets. And perhaps most disturbingly, the Catholic Church has quietly reinstated many suspended priests who have been investigated for molestation and abuse (even, in some cases, after paying out victims substantially through multi-million dollar civil lawsuit settlements).
Financial moves by the Catholic Church have included transferring assets into trusts, transferring property ownership to prevent bankruptcy (to pay abuse victims), and generally lessening their financial losses due to sex abuse claims. Bloomberg reported that when the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015, it claimed not to own cemeteries, schools, and parishes within its territory, going so far as to visit every cemetery in the region and painting over the name ‘Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.‘
If You Are a Victim of Catholic Church Sexual Abuse – We Are Here To Help
At Dordulian Law Group, we understand that coming forward to speak up after experiencing sexual abuse (especially years or even decades after the incident) is very difficult, and may generate emotions, feelings, and thoughts that have long been suppressed. We have established a unique SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) within our Sexual Assault Division, providing each of our clients with four tiers of support including access to an in-house, licensed clinical therapist with 15 years of experience. From your very first call to DLG, we will do everything we can to protect you from further trauma and provide you with the support you need. Your Los Angeles sex abuse lawyer and the entire team at Dordulian Law Group will protect your right to privacy and treat you with respect. Our goal is to help you heal and recover the maximum compensation you deserve. If you’re ready to take the next step, contact us today.
Some basic facts about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal:
- The church has paid out more than $3 billion to settle sexual abuse claims and continues to pay out multi-million dollar settlements for child sex abuse victims.
- Many dioceses around the country have filed for bankruptcy protection to cover legal fees and settlements due to sexual abuse accusations, including two in California: San Diego, CA (2/27/07), and Stockton, CA (01/15/14).
- More than 6,800 U.S. Catholic priests have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
- There are at least 19,000 survivors of sexual abuse by U.S. Catholic priests.
- 50% of survivors of Catholic Church abuse wait 20 years or longer to report the incident.
Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.
Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlements
For many Catholics, the problem with the institutional sex abuse of children in the church is twofold:
- The devastating, life-long impact on victims is heartbreaking.
- The Catholic Church handled the abuse abhorrently, failing to take action despite many opportunities, thereby continuing to allow children to be abused.
Among the more than $3 billion in settlements the Catholic Church has issued for abuse committed by its priests, some of the notable California settlements include:
- August 2001: Together, the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses agreed to pay a $5.2 million settlement to five boys who claimed Msgr. Michael A. Harris molested them.
- November 2003: The Diocese of Oakland agreed to pay a $1 million settlement to a man who claimed he was molested 20 years earlier. The priest, Father Robert Freitas, agreed to pay $16 million, although it was unclear if he had the ability to pay.
- December 2004: The Diocese of Orange agreed to pay an $85 million settlement to 87 people who were abused by priests, including Father Siegfried Widera.
- June 2005: The Diocese of Sacramento agreed to pay a $35 million settlement to 33 people who were abused by Rev. Mario Blanco between October 1969 to April 1973.
- August 2005: The Diocese of Oakland agreed to pay a $56 million settlement to 56 victims of sex abuse
- July 2007: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay a $660 million settlement to 508 people who were abused by 221 priests, brothers, lay teachers, and other church employees spanning seven decades.
- September 2007: The Diocese of San Diego agreed to a $198 million settlement to settle 144 claims of abuse.
- February 2014: The Los Angeles Archdiocese reached a $13 million settlement with 17 victims of Father Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera, a visiting priest from Mexico.
- June 2019: The Diocese of Santa Rosa reached a $6.8 million settlement for two boys who were abused by Kevin Thorpe, a counselor at the Hannah Boys Center in Sonoma. The lawsuit alleged the school and its employees knew that Thorpe was sexually abusing children on school property and in his own home. The complaint further alleged that said employees ignored and covered up evidence related to the abuse.
- January 2020: The Los Angeles Archdiocese reached a $1.9 million settlement with a 47-year-old man who was abused by Father Lawrence Lovell, convicted of child molestation in 2003 and sentenced to 14 years in prison. This case was the first case settled with a Catholic diocese in California since the passing of Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), a significant law that expanded the time frame for filing sexual abuse claims.
For a more comprehensive list of the numerous Catholic Church sexual abuse settlements in the U.S. and throughout the world, visit bishop-accountability.org/settlements.
Although many of the civil lawsuit settlements do not include an admission of guilt on the part of the church, it is clear that the involved dioceses believe the victims would be successful if the cases proceeded to jury trials. According to Bishop-Accountability.org’s diocese search, dozens of priests in Los Angeles have been convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to time in prison or mental hospitals.
Timeline of Major Events in the Catholic Church Sex Abuse Crisis
- January 2002 – Boston Globe Publication: In January 2002, the Boston Globe published an article titled “Church allowed abuse by priest for years.” The article was the first in a spotlight series about former priest John J. Geoghan (who allegedly fondled or raped more than 130 people over a three-decade span), and the mishandling of abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of Boston. By 2004, the Boston Globe had published more than 800 articles on the abuse scandal. Their reporting was important because it sparked national attention, and compelling other news media outlets to begin investigating their local dioceses.
- June 2002 – Dallas Charter and Norms: The Vatican instructed the U.S. Catholic Church to write binding laws to protect children, leading to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Adopted in Dallas in June 2002, the charter is widely known as the Dallas Charter and Norms. It required, among other things, that dioceses report any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to the authorities. The charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
Priest Reinstatements Since 2002
A massive contradiction of the Catholic Church’s supposed zero-tolerance policy is its many reinstatements since the 2002 Dallas Charter, which claimed it would remove offenders from ministry. According to BishopAccountability.org, in some cases, reinstatements occurred without even interviewing victims/accusers. In other cases, although victims were paid out substantially in multi-million dollar settlements, priests were still reinstated. Such reinstatements are a key reason for why such rampant systemic abuse was able to continue for decades. Some examples of known predator priests who were reinstated include:
- Rev. Alvaro Guichard – Reinstated by Archbishop John C. Favalora – Archdiocese of Miami FL: Guichard had previously been suspended for 15 months after two men claimed in civil lawsuits that he had molested them as children. He was reinstated by a church commission that found there was “no credibility” to the victims’ allegations.
- Rev. William G. Poole – Reinstated by Bishop Ronald Gainer – Diocese of Lexington KY: Rev. William G. Poole was suspended in September 2002 after being accused of abusing a boy in 1972. His suspension was ended on December 24, 2003, despite the Covington diocese reaching a settlement with his accuser. He died on December 21, 2018.
- Rev. Robert Stricker – Reinstated by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk – Archdiocese of Cincinnati, OH: In 1993, Rev. Robert Stricker was accused of abusing a Cincinnati boy in the 1950s. At the time, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati determined the allegations were unsubstantiated. Stricker was suspended in May 2008 after the same victim brought additional information to the archdiocese, which Bishop Pilarczyk said had “some semblance of truth.” Stricker was reinstated in July 2008 after a subsequent internal investigation determined the additional information could not be substantiated. He died on March 22, 2017.
- Rev. James F. Power – Reinstated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley – Archdiocese of Boston MA: In a 1993 complaint, Rev. James F. Power was accused of supplying a 13-year-old boy with alcohol, sodomizing, and fondling him during a 1980 trip to Acadia National Park. The $35 million lawsuit settled in 1996 for an undisclosed amount. Power was placed on administrative leave in February 2002 when church officials found his file during the Boston sex abuse scandal. A second allegation was made in October 2002. Power was reinstated on January 2, 2009, after the Archdiocese ruled it could not substantiate the allegations. He died August 14, 2015.
- Rev. Eugene P. Sullivan – Reinstated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley – Archdiocese of Boston MA: Sullivan was Superintendent of Archdiocesan Schools in Holbrook, MA, in the 1970s and ’80s. In 2004, he was accused in a lawsuit of fondling a 15-year-old in his car in 1977, along with allegations of abuse by two other priests. He was placed on administrative leave in January 2005 and reinstated in 2009 after a review board determined the allegation was unsubstantiated (despite the archdiocese paying the victim $475,000 in a settlement).
- Rev. Chris Berbena – Reinstated by Bishop Allen Vigneron – Diocese of Oakland: Franciscan Father Berbena was accused in 2004 of misconduct while serving in the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1980. After saying they could find no evidence of the abuse, Berbena was reinstated. His accuser was compensated in a settlement in 2006. After the settlement, the Diocese of Oakland again removed Berbena from active ministry. He was reinstated to active ministry again in February 2008.
If you believe you have a sexual abuse case and wish to pursue a claim, don’t hesitate to contact our award-winning expert attorneys online or by phone today.
References and Resources
For survivors of Catholic Church sexual abuse, it can be helpful to establish a support network and utilize available resources whenever possible. For DLG’s Catholic Church survivor clients, we have found the following references and resources can be somewhat helpful:
- USCCB.org: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. One of their purposes is to unify, coordinate, encourage, promote, and carry on Catholic activities in the United States. Their publications make the argument that they have “done more to protect children than almost any other organization in the United States.”
- BishopAccountability.org: A Massachusetts-based non-profit with the mission to “gather and make accessible all public information about the Catholic abuse crisis and the bishops’ role in it.”
- Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) – A non-profit 501(c)3 foundation supporting survivors of clergy sex abuse. SNAP purports to be “the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns, and others).”
If you are a survivor of Catholic Church abuse and would like to discuss pursuing a civil lawsuit to recover financial damages, or simply have questions regarding available resources, we are here for you. Contact a Dordulian Law Group Catholic Church abuse lawyer 24/7 through a free and confidential consultation.
How AB 218 Can Help California Catholic Church Sex Abuse Victims Now
California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) is a new law that took effect on January 1, 2020. The law is significant because it increases the statute of limitations for all survivors of childhood sexual abuse (whether by an individual or an institution) in two meaningful ways:
- It permanently raises the statute of limitations to 40 years of age
- It temporarily removes the statute of limitations entirely from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022. This means that regardless of when the abuse occurred, survivors are eligible to file civil claims for financial compensation against perpetrators and their employing institutions. You may bring a claim even if the perpetrator is deceased.
Additionally, a provision for “treble damages” allows the court to triple the amount of damages to any survivor who proves that his or her sexual assault was the result of a cover-up. The legal term “cover-up” is defined in the Code of Civil Procedure 340.1(b)(2) as “a concerted effort to hide evidence relating to childhood sexual assault.”
If you were abused in an institutional setting, such as the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, the YMCA, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, a public or private school, or as part of a sports club, you may have a treble damages claim for compensation towards your physical and emotional trauma. If a cover-up occurred, DLG’s experienced team of sexual abuse lawyers will pursue a treble damages settlement on your behalf.
Get a Free Consultation Today with a Sex Abuse Lawyer at DLG
An estimated one-third of childhood sexual abuse survivors never disclose their abuse. With the passage of AB 218, from 2020 – 2022 California law permits survivors to pursue compensation in a civil suit, no matter when the abuse occurred. Even if abuse occurred decades ago, reporting it now can allow for healing, accountability, and potentially a better future with a semblance of healing and closure. Our Los Angeles sex abuse law firm has recovered more than $100 million for abuse and injury victims, and we are here to help you 24/7. Don’t let the AB 218 lookback window expire without filing your claim.
From the moment you contact an experienced member of the DLG SAJE (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) Team, you are provided with the utmost support and respect, ensuring you are never alone going forward in the legal process. And at DLG you never pay a dime up-front. Under our contingency fee agreement, we are only paid a percentage of the final financial damages award we recover by prevailing in your case. To speak with a member of our team, call us at (800) 880-777 or contact us online for a free consultation about your case today.