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

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

Louisiana Supreme Court Muddies the Waters Concerning Mandatory Reporting of Sex Abuse

an agonizing decision

The final weekend of the 2016 US presidential campaign grabbed all the headlines but the news out of Louisiana on Friday was significant for those involved in the decades-long issue of Catholic priest sexual abuse.

On Friday, November 4th, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that Catholic priests are not mandatory reporters of sexual abuse when they are receiving confidential communications from their parishioners such as in the instance of hearing a confession.  The court’s decision was a major victory for the Catholic Church which has spent decades concealing priests from prosecution and attempting to protect the institution by thwarting efforts to change the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases.

“Any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication … and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status …” the high court decreed Friday.

However, as a sexual abuse lawyer who has advocated for hundreds of adults who were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests, there is a religious “loophole” for the priest who wants to do the right thing in these horrific cases.  As part of the ritual of confession, the priest hears the confession of sins, advises the person confessing (penitent), and offers a penance or a way of repairing the damage done by the confessed sins.  Once this is done, it is the priest’s decision whether he will offer absolution to the person confessing.  The priest’s decision is based on two factors:  1) Sorrow for the sins committed and, 2) A desire to avoid those sins in the future.  Prior to giving absolution (forgiveness), the priest may counsel the penitent to go to the authorities and acknowledge this crime.  According to the
law of the church, the priest can’t require that the penitent turn himself in or withhold absolution if he refuses to do so.  On the other hand, true sorrow for sin can be demonstrated by a sincere desire to make right what he did wrong.  Catholic priests who recognize the severity of child sexual abuse and the damage it causes should make every effort to make the abuser aware that justice must be done.

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling is a setback for transparency and justice.  It places the power to disclose such a heinous act as child sexual abuse in the hands of the abuser.  That is never going to protect children and remove sexual abusers from harming more children.

Six of Eight Pennsylvania Catholic Dioceses Subpoenaed in Sex Abuse Probe

An investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis in Pennsylvania has reached a new and unprecedented height of scrutiny.  Last week, four more Catholic dioceses received subpoenas regarding child sexual abuse including Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.  The diocese of Harrisburg is already part of the probe.  The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese did not get a subpoena because the attorney general’s office released its grand jury report of that region in March. The report led to charges against three Franciscan friars for alleged child endangerment and criminal conspiracy. The agency also set up a hotline for people to call to report abuse claims across the state.

The Diocese of Allentown would not confirm or deny receipt of a subpoena. The diocese is presently dealing with a related crisis-a pastor has been arrested for possessing child pornography.

In 2005 and 2011, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was the subject of two grand jury reports which detailed the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests as well as the cover-up of Philadelphia’s archbishops dating back into the 1950’s.

Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Rozzi, a sex abuse survivor himself, has already testified before a grand jury and will hold a news conference this week about a new legislative proposal that would change the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.

In light of the statewide probe of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, the state’s Catholic Conference may have a more difficult time fighting the legislation and protecting an institution that has covered up abuse and corruption for years.  The New York Catholic Conference was successful in blocking similar legislation but it didn’t do so in the light of a statewide investigation.  

Testimony in all six dioceses will begin soon and Rozzi believes Keystone state citizens will be shocked by the magnitude of the problem.  Rozzi told one media outlet, “people are going to be really, really shocked” when the Pennsylvania Attorney General uncovers their findings.

Image courtesy of http://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/

USA Gymnasts Accuse Doctor of Sexual Abuse

dr-larry-nassar

When the Indianapolis Star published their investigation on the sexual abuse of USA gymnasts, the findings focused on the coaches.  Published just prior to the commencement of the Summer Olympics in Brazil, the allegations received widespread media attention.

Now, the Indianapolis Star has published a new story of sexual abuse.  This time the alleged perpetrator is Dr. Larry Nassar, who is accused of fondling the two gymnasts’ breasts and genitalia during examinations.  Nassar left USA Gymnastics last year after serving as the team physician during four Olympic games.  

According to the Daily Beast, “One gymnast, an Olympic medalist, filed a lawsuit in a California state court  that was made public on Monday. The other gymnast, Rachael Denhollander, filed a police complaint with Michigan State University police in August. Nassar is a faculty member there.

According to the California suit, the unnamed medalist, “Jane JD Doe,” claims that USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to examine her in complete privacy, in clear violation of the organization’s standard of conduct. The other woman, Rachael Denhollander, spoke on the record to the newspaper, and appears in a lengthy video.

In it, Denhollander says that she sought treatment for back and wrist injuries from Nassar when she was a 15-year-old club-level gymnast in 2000, and claims that he became increasingly abusive during each session. In Denhollander’s account, Nassar unhooked her bra and fondled her breasts, and began “massaging internally,” penetrating her vagina and anus with his finger and thumb, she said. “He never wore gloves,” Denhollander said in the video.”

As in most sexual abuse cases involving minors, further investigation uncovers more abuse and more perpetrators.  While all the facts are not available yet, it appears likely that USA Gymnastics’ abuse saga is systemic and culpability includes an institution that failed to protect vulnerable children.

As Guam Considers Revising Statute of Limitations on Sex Abuse, More Survivors Come Forward

As Guam holds public holds public hearings to consider Bill 326 which would lift the statute of limitations on survivors who are coming forward to publicly reveal cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, more victims are courageously testifying in support of the bill.

One media outlet wrote, “Guam is on its way to becoming the first U.S. territory to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue their perpetrator at any time, without restriction, on retroactive cases.  As of Friday, there was no opposition to a bill that would remove time restrictions for suing child sex abusers. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled to resume Monday.” Read More