The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn Announce a Sexual Abuse Compensation Plan

Catholic-Diocese-of-Brooklyn

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced last week that it will offer a sexual abuse victim compensation plan similar to the one the Archdiocese of New York began last year.

The Brooklyn program will initially consider the cases of about 280 abuse victims already known to the diocese, for claims of abuse that date to the 1930s.

At least 54 priests in the Brooklyn diocese, which also includes Queens, have been accused of child sexual abuse

The compensation program is intended for those whose accusations do not fall within New York State’s statute of limitations for bringing a legal or civil case for molestation, which requires victims take action before age 23.

The Brooklyn Queens Diocese released the following information:

“The Diocese has already begun reaching out to survivors who have previously reported abuse by a diocesan clergy member. These known survivors are invited to participate in Phase I of the IRCP. In the next few days, these individuals will be receiving further information by mail from Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros with details about the IRCP process and instructions for submitting a claim. (The deadline for filing a claim in Phase I of the IRCP isSeptember 30, 2017.)

Those who may come forward with a previously unreported allegation of abuse will be eligible to participate in Phase II by first registering through the program’s website to receive information for Phase II when it becomes available.”

The Catholic Church has relied on the statute of limitations to get lawsuits dismissed and avoid paying any money to those who have come forward to report being sexually abused by catholic priests. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to recovery compensation for those harmed by priests.

I represent survivors from many states in the Union and have found the Diocese of Brooklyn to be one of the most difficult dioceses in the country when it comes to sexual abuse survivors.  They’ve been aggressive in refusing to help survivors and in some cases claiming that the survivors’ allegations are unfounded without having done any investigation.

Our firm is accepting new cases for survivors of childhood sex abuse by priests that occurred in Brooklyn and Queens no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

The Bill Cosby Sex Assault Mistrial and Its Impact on Sexual Assault Survivors

Bill Cosby Sex Assault Mistrial

While Saturday’s news that the jurors in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial had deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial was not a victory for sexual assault and abuse survivors, it did give the pubic a glimpse into the trauma and the victimization endured by survivors of these crimes.

Some legal experts opined that the jury deadlocked because the survivor wasn’t credible, that she changed her story, and that she continued to contact Cosby after the assault.  On the surface, those sound like pretty convincing arguments to side with Cosby.  However, anyone who has worked with sexual abuse survivors like I have knows that memory is fragile and does not always recall the details of events.  That doesn’t mean the victim is not credible especially in cases that happened some time ago.  Secondly, trauma affects memory in such a way that recall of a sexual assault may seem disjointed.  Kathryn Gigler of Northwestern University published an article a few years ago about this phenomenon.  She writes in part, “this situation affects pathways important for memory formation, which means that an individual can fail to correctly encode and store memories experienced during trauma. While an individual generally will remember the traumatic event itself (unless alcohol or drugs are present in the system), these memories will feel fragmented, and may take time to piece together in a way that makes narrative sense.  Behavioral patterns in individuals who have experienced sexual violence mirror those seen in other traumatized populations, like combat veterans. This pattern of symptoms, known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can include emotional numbness, intrusive memories of the traumatic event, and hyperarousal (increased awareness of one’s surroundings, or constantly being “on guard”).”

Lest we forget, Cosby’s victim was indeed drugged prior to the sexual assault which will have a detrimental effect on memory and later recall.  In Gigler’s article, she opens by recalling an interview conducted by a police detective who concludes that an alleged assault victim is lying after listening to her try to recall the event.  Gigler comes to a different conclusion based on her studies of trauma on sexual assault victims.  She writes, “Therefore, the detective who was unable to believe the story told to him by my crisis caller was likely misinterpreting the discrepancies in her story as lies, rather than as her brain’s responses to extreme trauma. Best practices now suggest that officers wait at least two sleep cycles, generally 48 hours, before interviewing a victim of sexual violence. Additionally, the interview should be handled in a victim-centered manner, not as an interrogation. Research-informed practices have the potential for not only better outcomes for survivors of sexual violence, but also for reporting and prosecution rates for our legal system.”

Finally, one legal scholar concluded that the survivor was unreliable given that she continued to contact Cosby after the assault.  However, sexual assault trauma victims often behave in this fashion.  I have represented many courageous survivors of Catholic priest abuse who continued to stay in touch with their perpetrator after the initial assault.  This does not make the survivor unreliable and this phenomenon is not anomalous.  Therapy and healing for sexual assault survivors is complex and fraught with contradictory emotions and behaviors including self-loathing and even sometimes feeling temporary sympathy for the predator.

Sexual assault and abuse cases are not black and white.  Rather, they are layered with issues that must be addressed before healing takes place.  In a similar vein, our criminal justice system would do well to understand all of these factors and proceed accordingly and cautiously when handling a sexual assault case.

 

Photo Credit via USA Today

Catholic Church Reports Dramatic Rise in Sexual Abuse Claims Last Year

Sex Abuse Claims Rise in Chatholic Church

The Boston Globe is reporting that the Catholic Church in the United States experienced a sharp increase in abuse claims last year.  It is the largest rise since the country’s Catholic bishops began keeping tallies of claims in 2004.

The annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which covers July 2015 to June 2016, said 911 victims came forward with allegations the church deemed credible, the vast majority of which were from adults who said they were abused when they were children.  The bishops’ report noted that the previous year there were only 384 claims of abuse.

The report attributed the rise in claims to Minnesota, the state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations in 2013 to allow alleged victims older than 24 to sue for past abuse, and the deadline to file such claims was in late May 2016.

However, other factors such as the documentary film Spotlight which served to bring the issue back into the forefront of public attention.

Victims who came forward during the most recent reporting year included 26 minors, the report said.

The report’s definition of “minors” included people under age 18 or anyone who “habitually lacks the use of reason.”

As of June 30, 2016, two of the 26 cases had been substantiated, while 11 had been deemed unsubstantiated by church officials. The rest remained under investigation, the report said.

The offenders in the substantiated cases were removed from ministry, as were 26 other priests or deacons accused of past abuse, officials said.

The report did not break down the location of the allegations but said its data was based on information from all 196 diocese and eparchies of the bishops conference and from 180 of the 232 religious institutes of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The latest figures mean that between 1950 and June 2016, more than 18,500 people nationwide made clergy abuse allegations deemed credible by US Catholic officials, and more than 6,700 clerics have been accused of abuse, church records show.

Activists have questioned whether the church’s count of clergy sex abuse victims is lower than the actual total.  The Media Report, a conservative online site, hit back against the Globe’s article accusing the newspaper of attempting to keep an old story alive by rehashing old news and false claims.  Of course, they also include the obligatory criticism of lawyers.  The truth of the matter is this:  lawyers who are involved in this fight for justice are doing it to help the survivors of sexual abuse and those who come forward show a great deal of courage and their claims have been shown to be true.

Florida Behavioral Therapist Arrested on Child Molestation Charges

Florida Behav Therapist Arrested on Child Molestation

Jessica Lazzara, a Maitland behavioral therapist, has been arrested on charges of child abuse, lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure. She was taken to the Polk County jail and held without bond.

Lazzara, 42, was employed as an intern according to Big Bear Behavioral Health in Maitland, Florida and had been meeting with two young girls who were sexual trauma victims, 11 and 13, since November 2016.

At a press conference on May 30, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made the case that Big Bear Behavioral Health did not conduct an adequate investigation of Ms. Lazzara’s background.

Lazzara met with the two sexual trauma patients at their home at 3:15 p.m. on April 24 for a therapy session. The session started and the patient stayed in bed at her own request. The therapist proceeded to threaten the girl with a bow and arrow and then started striking her, deputies said. The suspect went outside to the back of the property with the two girls and their 27-year-old mother, where Lazzara inappropriately touched two of the females with a lighter and spray paint, according to the affidavit. The victims were dressed during the incident, Judd said.

The three females went to the front yard and Lazzara lifted up her shirt to expose herself to them, deputies said. The victims turned away from Lazzara and ran inside, locked the door and called 911.  When confronted, Lazzara said that she would kill everyone and herself, the arrest affidavit said. Lazzarra went on to bang on doors and windows until police detained her, according to deputies.

She told authorities she was having a bad day and couldn’t remember everything that happened.

“I don’t remember everything that happened that day,” Lazzara told deputies, according to the report. “I am sorry for what I did. I don’t need to be a therapist anymore, I don’t need to work around children.”

In a post-Miranda interview with police, Lazzara said she wanted one of the deputies to shoot her. Responding deputies took Lazarra to a hospital where she was held under the Baker Act.

The Baker Act is a Florida law that enables families and loved ones to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness, and who are unable to determine their needs for treatment. The Act was named after Maxine Baker, former Miami State representative who sponsored the Act in 1972. People who require the use of the Baker Act have often lost the power of self-control, and they are likely to inflict harm to themselves or others.

Attorney Joe Saunders is an experienced and compassionate advocate for all sexual abuse and trauma survivors.  If you or a loved one has been abused by a teacher, coach, priest, or counselor, please contact him for a free consultation.

 

Photo Credit via wptv.com

Pinellas Teacher Arrested in Largo for Child Porn

Robert James Plotkin Clearwater Teacher Arrested for Child Pornography

Robert James Plotkin, a teacher since 2012 at Clearwater Intermediate, a dropout prevention middle school at 1220 Palmetto St. in Clearwater, Florida has been arrested and is being charged with on 10 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of tampering with physical evidence, according to Largo police.

Local police were tipped off about Plotkin on March 15 after his roommate called police to notify them that she had spotted child pornography on Plotkin’s laptop.  Plotkin knew officers were on the way, police said, because his roommate told him she reported him. The teacher then threw his laptop in a lake near his apartment at 225 Country Club Drive, police said. When officers arrived, Plotkin told them his computer was in the lake. Then he retrieved it for them, police said.

Officers took the laptop but did not arrest Plotkin. A cyber crimes investigator later retrieved images from the hard drive showing pornography involving children ages 3 to 17, police said.  “This is 2017. It’s not gonna happen,” said Largo Police Lieutenant Joe Coyle, referring to Plotkin’s efforts to destroy the evidence. “You’re not going to throw a computer in the water and think that you’re gonna erase all your images.”

Plotkin has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges.

Plotkin’s Facebook page has no entries but states that he is originally from Ohio.

Child pornography is a scourge on our society and our community in particular.  It endangers our children and the harm wrought by child sexual abuse leaves life-long scars.

 

Photo Credit by WTSP Tampa Bay Sarasota News

Pennsylvania Diocese Collaborates with Feds to Curb Child Sex Abuse

US Attorney of Pennsylvania Collaborating with Catholic Diocese

At least that’s what officials of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania want all of us to believe.  Earlier this month, the bishop and the acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song held a press conference to announce their collaboration on preventing further child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

“This is a memorandum of understanding, it is not a court document,” Song said. “What we found is that the diocese was a willing partner.”

While the new partners appear willing to cooperate such ventures in the past in other dioceses have led to frustration on the part of secular authorities.  After a withering grand jury investigation which revealed that two former bishops of the small Pennsylvania diocese had cover-up past cases of child sex abuse by priests, the diocese is in sore need of good news.  While it is too early to know whether the present bishop is sincere, past announcements, including the Pope’s own commission, have led to recriminations, resignations by lay members, and accusations of obfuscation and secrecy.

During their joint press conference, the US attorney and the bishop announced the following reforms:

  • The creation of an independent, multidisciplinary oversight board that will include a former U.S. attorney and a Lutheran clergyman;
  • The retention of an outside expert to develop a new, comprehensive child abuse prevention program;
  • A reporting protocol that requires the diocese to report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement within 12 hours after receipt;
  • Taking immediate steps to prevent any contact with minors by the suspected perpetrators;
  • Placing clergy on personnel or administrative leave within 24 hours of notice of a credible allegation of child sexual abuse;
  • Counseling and support services for victims by qualified and independent mental health professionals chosen by the victims.

During the press conference, US Attorney Song referred to the reform measures as “unprecedented” which may be true in Altoona-Johnstown but similar measures have been announced and failed miserably in other dioceses around the United States.  Time will tell if the parties are sincere and able to work together to protect children.  As an attorney advocate for abuse survivors, I’ve learned from experience that the Church is unable and unwilling to police itself.

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Legislation to Expand Statute of Limitation on Sex Abuse Cases

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Legislation to Expand Statute of Limitations on Sex Abuse Cases

In a vote of 48-0, the Pennsylvania state Senate has approved legislation that would give survivors of child sexual abuse an opportunity to seek justice in the civil courts.

The bill, which essentially reopens an old debate with the state House in the new legislative session, would give child victims until age 50 to bring civil lawsuits against abusers or those employers who were allegedly negligent in failing to stop them.

At present, the window to sue expires at age 30.  It would also eliminate any statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions for child sexual abuse.

The victory in the Senate does not mean that the legislation will necessarily become law in the Keystone State.  First, it must be reconciled with a much more restrictive bill in the House.  The House did add a retroactive provision in their bill which would give survivors a two year window to file sexual abuse lawsuits.

“We’re hopeful that the House will take it under careful consideration,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre. “We could move something forward for survivors of child sex abuse rather than offer them nothing.”

House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said the House will try to reach a consensus between the two chambers to “send a very strong bill with a strong message for victims to the governor.”

The new legislation comes in the wake of multiple grand jury investigations that have found hundreds of cases of sexual abuse involving Pennsylvania Catholic priests and the cover-up of the crimes by the state’s bishops over a period spanning the last fifty years.  Each Pennsylvania grand jury investigation has made it more difficult for the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania to deny or minimize the extend of the problem of child sex abuse in the state.

Photo Credit by Bestbudbrian via Wikimedia Commons

Guam’s Former Archbishop Hiding in the United States

The Vatican announced recently that a canonical trial has commenced concerning Guam’s former Archbishop Apuron and the trial will be lengthy, perhaps spanning several years.

However, that contradicts what media outlets have discovered.  Under the guise of searching for a missing dog, reporters have located Archbishop living in a two-story house in Fairfield, California.  There is video footage circulating on the Internet and this new revelation makes it difficult to square with the Vatican’s assertion that there is indeed a canonical trial involving Archbishop Apuron.  How do I know this?  I was involved in a canonical trial in connection with my representation of a sexual abuse survivor a few years ago.

A canonical trial, like most civil or criminal trials, requires the presence or at least the participation of all parties involved in the case.

The Catholic Church has responded through Apuron’s lawyer concerning his whereabouts, sort of.  This afternoon, Attorney Jacque Terlaje provided a statement to KUAM: “As you are aware, I am legal counsel for Archbishop Anthony Apuron, OFM Cap. D.D. In response to your inquires(sic) regarding his whereabouts, the Archbishop is in a location where he is able to continue working on defending his innocence without distraction.”

What does that statement mean?  It seems to me that if Apuron were innocent of any wrongdoing in the Guam sexual abuse tragedy, he’d be in Rome defending himself.  He certainly wouldn’t be hiding in a previously undisclosed location in California.

For abuse survivors, Archbishop Apuron’s reticence has all the markings of what survivors have come to expect from the Catholic Church-cover-up, obfuscation, and a public relations campaign that is no better than a “don’t confuse me with the facts” campaign.  This only weakens the Church’s position in handling sex abuse cases.  It fans the flames of justice which inch closer and closer to the former Archbishop himself.

Photo Credit via Guam Archdiocese’s Website

Pope’s Actions Contradicting His Words

Pope Francis Actions Contradicting His Words

On January 2nd, Pope Francis released a letter reminding the world’s Catholic bishops that he will not tolerate any tolerance of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  The letter was dated December 28th.  In the letter, Pope Francis is unequivocal about the issue and if you were to judge him solely on his written words, you’d have to conclude that he was serious about stamping out clergy sexual abuse.

Yet, the press have caught Francis in at least two instances where his actions directly contradict his words.  The first incident involves Italian priest Nicola Corradi who, along with four other men, was arrested in November for sexually abusing hearing impaired children.  All but Corradi were sanctioned by the Vatican.  This was not the first time Corradi’s name had been linked to the sexual abuse of children at the school.  He was named along with other priests in 2009 for abusing children.  The students from the school sent a personal letter in 2014 directly to the Pope asking him to do something about Corradi, who was living in Argentina, the Pope’s native country.  The Pope did nothing with the letter.  In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that the Vatican acknowledged its existence.

Pope Francis Oddly Reinstates Mauro Inzoli Despite Sexual Abuse History

Mauro “Don Mercedes” Inzoli

The second instance is perhaps more troubling and indicates a papal mindset that should be deeply troubling to those of us concerned with child safety.  It involves the case of Mauro Inzoli or “Don Mercedes” as he was known for his flamboyant lifestyle.  Pope Benedict had defrocked him in 2012 for child sexual abuse.  In 2014, Pope Francis took the highly unusual step of reinstating Inzoli as a priest.  Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing in The Week wrote,

But Don Mercedes was “with cardinal friends,” we have learned. Cardinal Coccopalmerio and Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, now dean of the Roman Rota, both intervened on behalf of Inzoli, and Pope Francis returned him to the priestly state in 2014, inviting him to a “a life of humility and prayer.” These strictures seem not to have troubled Inzoli too much. In January 2015, Don Mercedes participated in a conference on the family in Lombardy.

This summer, civil authorities finished their own trial of Inzoli, convicting him of eight offenses. Another 15 lay beyond the statute of limitations. The Italian press hammered the Vatican, specifically the CDF, for not sharing the information they had found in their canonical trial with civil authorities. Of course, the pope himself could have allowed the CDF to share this information with civil authorities if he so desired.”

Dougherty intimates that Pope Francis in speaking one way but doing the opposite is more of a Machiavellian figure than a vicar of Christ.  He’s not the only writer to come to that conclusion.  Rod Dreher, writing on the same topic, concludes, “As ever with church leaders who talk about reform, don’t listen to what they say, but rather watch what they do.”

Photo Credit By Tânia Rêgo/ABr (Agência Brasil) via Wikimedia Commons

 

St. Petersburg’s New Bishop Avoids Sexual Abuse Scandal

Diocese of St. Petersburg

On November 28th, Gregory L. Parkes was introduced as the new Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and will succeed Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who led the Diocese of St. Petersburg for the last 21 years. It is well documented that under Bishop Lynch, a large number of young boys were sexually abused by local priests from the Diocese of St. Petersburg so there was an expectation that newly appointed Bishop Parkes would address the issue at his news conference. To my disappointment, he did not. Watch the following interview I did with WFLA Tampa News and see what else was  said about the issue.

Photo Credit by Jayarathina via Wikimedia Commons