Church sex scandal: Abuse victims want a full reckoning

Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, conducts Mass at St. Mathews Cathedral, Wednesday, August 15, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, conducts Mass at St. Mathews Cathedral, Wednesday, August 15, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

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 accountable.

“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 non-profit 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 500 victims.

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.

Related: Priests molested 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, report says

Related: Pope begins purge in Chilean church over sex abuse scandal

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 do so.

“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 act appropriately.”

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 said.

“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.”

Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock Rotary Club president Mauricio Browne de Paula (front right) with other club and community volunteers at the launch of the free hot lunch program at the city parking lot at Russell Avenue and Johnston Road on May 21. (File photo)
Daily demand for White Rock Rotary, city lunch program surpasses 40

Recipients ‘are very good people… going through some tough times’

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Surrey Fire Service responded to a fire in the industrial area of 192nd street and 54th Avenue early Saturday morning (Jan. 23, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews respond to fire in industrial area

Fire happened early Saturday morning

Students at Creekside Elementary in Surrey wrote letters to seniors over the holidays, and are planning to write more for Valentine’s Day and Family Day. (Photo: surreyschools.ca)
Surrey elementary students connect with seniors through letter writing

Creekside students planning to send more cards for Valentine’s Day

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Police called to Surrey home for report of weapon, man taken into custody

Surrey RCMP say people evacuated from house, one found in a bedroom ‘hiding from police’

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

sd
VIDEO: Mission drag racer scores 1st career win, sets world record, makes history in 2020

Justin Bond, founder and owner of JBS Equipment Mission, has break-out year

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

Giants defenceman Bowen Byram has recorded his first NHL career point (Rob Wilton/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants Bowen Byram records first NHL career point with Colorado Avalanche

Player with Langley-based WHL franchise assisted on goal against the Ducks

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Most Read