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.

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.

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

Catholic Bishops Reporting Abuse

catholic church abuse

Once again the Catholic Church has affirmed that its priorities are to protect the interests of the institution and not the victims of pedophile priests.

It was recently reported in the Catholic news website, Crux, that during a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella told newly ordained bishops that they are not obligated to report sexual abuse to authorities, stating the responsibility to report the abuse falls on the victims and their families.

It was shocking and disturbing to hear, especially after the Vatican under Pope Francis has often spoken of “zero tolerance” in regards to dealing with sexual abuse by priests, yet their official policies appear to still relieve bishops of any responsibility.

SNAP spokesperson Barbara Dorris was appalled and in her response statement spoke of how, “No mention was made that you should call the police when a crime is reported to you and we found that deeply disturbing.” Dorris went on to point out that since 2002, the church has promised transparency, yet consistently failed to deliver. The revelation of Anatrella’s instruction to new bishops only confirms that the safety of children is still not their top priority.

I have long advocated that if the Catholic Church is ever to eradicate pedophile priests from its ranks, the bishops must be held accountable. The failure of bishops to report suspected and known pedophiles and turn them over to police is one of the main reasons that the church’s abuse scandal continues. For decades it has been unofficial policy for bishops to move rapists from parish to parish rather than hand them over to law enforcement. Bishops were allowed and encouraged to abdicate any moral and ethical responsibility and not report suspected abuse to civil authorities in order to protect the reputation of the church.

This latest revelation again basically instructs the bishops that they don’t have to do anything; it is up to the families or the victims to go to the police.

The Catholic Church has shown that they will not change until they are forced to change. Mandatory reporting laws everywhere need to be expanded to include people who work for religious institutions, and this should especially include Catholic Bishops. Change will only come when the church is forced to put the welfare of children first.