Church Abuse Victims Want Reckoning 08/16 06:11
(AP) -- Six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania joined the list this
week of those around the U.S. that have been forced to face the ugly truth
about child-molesting priests in their ranks.
But in dozens of other dioceses, there has been no reckoning, leading
victims to wonder if the church will ever truly take responsibility or be held
"It happens everywhere, so it's not really so much a question of where has
it happened, but instead, where has word gotten out, where is information about
it accessible?" said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, a
Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases.
Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country
have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse, with many of
them forced to come clean by aggressive plaintiffs' attorneys, assertive
prosecutors or relentless journalists.
In a few instances, namely in Tucson, Arizona, and Seattle, dioceses
voluntarily named names.
Dioceses in Boston; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Denver; San
Diego; Louisville, Kentucky; and Dallas have all paid multimillion-dollar
settlements to victims. Fifteen dioceses and three Catholic religious orders
have filed for bankruptcy to deal with thousands of lawsuits.
Still, only about 40 of the nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S. have released
lists of priests accused of abusing children, and there have been only nine
investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or
archdiocese in the U.S., according to BishopAccountability.org.
In many of the dioceses that have been examined, the numbers have been
staggering: in the six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 abusive priests and more than
1,000 victims since the 1940s; in Boston, at least 250 priests and more than
All told, U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people
nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church
going back to 1950.
Phil Saviano, a Massachusetts man who said he was sexually abused by a
priest in 1960s beginning at age 11, said he hopes the grand jury report in
Pennsylvania will prompt attorneys general in other states to conduct similar
investigations. He said he doubts dioceses will release names unless forced to
"My personal feeling is that none of them are going to come forward
voluntarily. It's always going to take some pressure from the public, the
parishioners or legal authorities," said Saviano, whose story was one of many
exposed by The Boston Globe in its 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning series and later
in the Oscar-winning movie "Spotlight."
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who estimates he has represented 3,000
clergy sex abuse victims from around the world since the 1990s, said he has
sent letters detailing about two dozen allegations of abuse against priests
from dioceses in Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island and received similar responses
from all three.
"They say, 'We feel very sorry for your clients, but it's outside the
statute of limitations,'" Garabedian said, adding, "The church knows there is
no legal recourse, so the church says it will not act responsibly and will not
In many states, statutes of limitations allow people abused as children to
file civil claims up until only age 21 or slightly older. In Massachusetts and
other states hit hard by the crisis, those statutes were amended after the
scandal erupted. But in many other states, the laws have remained unchanged.
The Pennsylvania grand jury said that in almost every case there, the
statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges has run out.
Echoing what was discovered in Boston and other places, the grand jury
report accused senior church officials of hushing up allegations against
priests, in some cases by shuffling them from parish to parish.
In a statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for the
Protection of Children and Young People expressed sorrow over the Pennsylvania
findings and said: "We are committed to work in determined ways so that such
abuse cannot happen."
In recent years, the U.S. bishops have adopted widespread reforms, including
mandatory criminal background checks for priests and lay employees, a
requirement that abuse allegations be reported to law enforcement, the
suspension of priests while they are being investigated, and permanent removal
from ministry when accusations are substantiated.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who is a senior analyst for the
Religion News Service, noted such reforms but said the Pennsylvania grand jury
report should be a "wake-up call" to other dioceses that they need to hire
outside groups to do independent investigations, then must publish the results.
But he said he is doubtful that will happen.
"A lot of bishops feel, 'Hey, that was done before I got here. I regret that
it happened, I'm sorry that it happened, but we've changed, this is no longer
happening under my watch because of the procedures we've put in place,'" Reese
"If they had just gotten all of the dirt out at the very beginning, all at
the same time, then we wouldn't be suffering death by 1,000 cuts. It's just
place after place, and frankly, it's the same story in every place."