A Priest Abuse Lawyer Can Help Find Closure

cathedral in front of cloudy blue skies

Victims of abuse by Catholic priests suffer a unique type of PTSD. The trauma is in the past, but the stress and psychological pain are always there.  It’s a unique type of PTSD because the victims didn’t see the abuse coming. To understand what children sexually abused by priests go through, talk to an adult survivor. Children are too shy and they don’t have the vocabulary.

Here is the testimony of Terry (not his real name):

“I was just 11 when I was an altar boy at a Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri. I lived in a poorer section of St. Louis, and eagerly accepted the affectionate hugs and the priest’s invitation to join a group of youths he took out on his motor yacht on the Mississippi. He carefully groomed me over the next few months. I was always among a group of other boys and adults he invited to accompany him of fun excursions for swimming, picnics, and great times.

“The abuse started during a group overnight trip. We were anchored off a river island when he joined me in the sleeping cabin on the stern of the boat. I was only 11 at the time, and was surprised and confused when he touched and masturbated me. The touching soon progressed to the time when we were alone at night on the boat weeks later. Long story short, the man raped me. I can’t think of that night without…Well, I just don’t like to talk about it.

“I was a psychological prisoner of that monster for seven years. Why didn’t I report him? To answer that you have to understand the control that adult priests exercise over children. It’s a combination of religious awe, mind control, fear of sin, and guilt. In the case of my abuser, he turned me against my parents. My father drank and my mother was suffered from mental illness.  He also convinced me that it was my fault and that I was the one who had seduced him.

“The priest robbed me of my childhood.  Homosexual promiscuity is something no prepubescent and adolescent boy should have to endure. Fortunately, as in the case of most child molesters, he cut me loose as I became a young adult.

“Along with lifelong stress, I have a special resentment for the Catholic Church. The priest’s colleagues knew that this priest was a child molester. I know this from a discussion with another priest. My abuser had moved from parish to parish until his flock became alarmed as he seemed to hug their children a bit too creepily.

“I only wish after all these years of guilt, stress and resentment, that I could have contacted a priest abuse lawyer. During those years when the Mass was still said in Latin, had I reported the priest, I might have been believed. However, the Church would undoubtedly have moved him to yet another parish.”

Terry is 76 now. He is retired and lives in Colorado with his wife of many years. His abuser died years ago, but not before he was finally arrested for child molestation. The Church’s lawyers apparently settled with the victim’s family, and the priest was moved elsewhere.



This blog is based on the personal experience of the writer.

New Jersey Governor Will Sign Bill Providing Sex Abuse Survivors Opportunity to Bring Lawsuits

new jersey governor murphy

The fight has been long and hard.  It has taken two decades for survivors of sexual abuse to get justice.  New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign the bill today. 

Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says the impact the law will have cannot be overstated.

“This will finally allow survivors in New Jersey more time to come forward and hold their perpetrators accountable for the crimes that they committed,” she said.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops, had successfully pressured lawmakers to steer clear of the legislation for many years. That changed, however, after a Pennsylvania grand jury investigated and released the names of 300 clergy members credibly accused of sexual assault last summer.

In September, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced he was launching a similar effort to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, and any efforts to cover up such abuse.

The legislation would dramatically expand the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. It would give child victims until age 55 or within seven years of realizing they were abused to file a lawsuit. It would also give survivors who were previously blocked from suing their perpetrators a two-year window to bring cases. Democratic State Senator Joe Vitale is the lead sponsor of the bill.

This year, 35 states are considering legislation to expand the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, according to Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of the group Child USA.

“This is the most active year in history on statute of limitations issues,” Hamilton said.

New York recently expanded its civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse and dozens of other states including California and Virginia are considering similar measures.

“I think we’ve reached a point where the public is finally 100 percent behind the victims,” Hamilton said. “Nobody seems to be afraid anymore of the institutions.”

The Catholic Church in New Jersey has historically fought this type of legislation and the church lobbyists have been successful for nearly two decades.  Not so this year.  Now, the 5 dioceses in New Jersey have said they agree with the legislation in principle but have urged the Governor to delay passage until they complete their recently launched compensation program.  The New Jersey compensation program, similar to the ones in New York and Pennsylvania, puts aside issues of liability and evaluates the claims in terms of compensation.  However, the program excludes religious order priests which remain an under-documented demographic in terms of sexual abuse.

Once the Governor signs this legislation, survivors will have options in terms of seeking justice against the institutions which allowed the abuse. 

Archdiocese of New York Finally Publishes its List of Priest Abusers


The Archdiocese of New York has finally published a list of 120 clergy that abused children.  The list includes 115 priests and 5 deacons.  For months now, the Archdiocese and Cardinal Timothy Dolan have been criticized for failing to publish a list of known priests who abused children.

The list does not include extern priests-priests who worked in the Archdiocese but were from a different diocese.  It also does not include name of religious order priests who’ve been accused of child sexual abuse. 

In publishing the list, the Archdiocese provided no details concerning assignment history of those listed.  One of the names on the list, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, also appears on the list provided by the Archdiocese of Newark.

The New York archdiocese listed 53 priests and deacons who were credibly accused of abuse, admitted to it, were convicted of a crime related to it, or were involved in a civil settlement. Most of them were either defrocked or have died. Included on that list was Theodore E. McCarrick, the former cardinal who was one of the highest-profile leaders in the church to be accused of abuse and was recently expelled from the priesthood.

Nearly 60 other clergy members named had died or left the ministry before being accused in cases that led to financial settlements from the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The list also includes eight priests who have been removed from ministry and are awaiting final canonical or archdiocesan disposition of allegations against them.

Most of the alleged abuse took place between the 1950s and the 1990s, according to a graph provided by the archdiocese. The archdiocese also said that since the 2002 overhaul of the church’s practices surrounding abuse claims, two cases had been found credible.

While some praised Cardinal Dolan for publishing the list, it is a small step.  Dolan has controlled the medium and the message throughout the history of the scandal which dates back to the turn of the millennium.  He was one of the major forces behind the movement to stop the New York legislature from passing a bill that would allow survivors to bring civil claims against the Catholic Church.  He lost and now the Archdiocese and other dioceses in New York face a wave of civil lawsuits this summer. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the published list is the result of the church’s self-reporting.  Unlike in Pennsylvania where a grand jury independently investigated the church, the Catholic Church in other parts of the United States is offering sanitized versions of reports.  This will not stop the abuse of children.  Only when people read such investigations as the Grand Jury Report, does real change happen.  Perhaps the New York Attorney General will convene a grand jury and investigate the Empire State’s Catholic dioceses.  Only then will we know the real story behind the names and numbers issued by the Cardinal of New York.  Only then will he be held accountable for the terrible suffering of innocent children.

New Jersey Senate Approves Bill Removing Time Limits on Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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In a 32-1 vote, the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that had languished in committee for years.  Abuse survivor advocates have argued that the present law prohibits survivors from seeking justice in civil courts due to the restrictive statute of limitations.

The bill would extend the current statute of limitations from two years to seven years for adult victims of sexual assault, as well as expand the categories of defendants liable in such actions, passed the full Senate on Thursday by a 32-1 vote.

The measure, S-477, also creates a window so child victims from the past are not shut out of filing suit against their abusers years later. For instance, in an incident of sexual assault occurring before a victim turned 18, that person would be able to file a claim any time up until turning 55.

Research has shown victims tend to report cases of sexual abuse later in life—and why advocates say the change in law is needed. Mental health experts and the Centers for Disease Control have put 55 as the average reporting age of past sexual abuse.

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Governor Phil Murphy in November 2015

Once signed by Gov. Murphy, S-477 would go into effect on Dec. 1, 2019.

However, the New Jersey Assembly has to approve the measure.  They meet on March 25th and could take a vote soon thereafter.

The bill’s Senate approval comes in the wake of numerous and continued Catholic Church abuse scandals, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and neighboring state New York passing similar legislation.

New Jersey’s archdiocese and its four dioceses have formed a joint compensation fund to address the issue in the wake of the pending legislation.  If the legislation passes the Assembly and is signed into law by the Governor, New Jersey sex abuse survivors will have a choice whether to participate in the compensation fund or seek justice in the civil courts.  This is a choice denied survivors for decades as the laws in New Jersey and most states in the country favored protecting institutions like the Catholic Church rather than the rights of children and survivors of abuse.

Approximately a month prior to the Senate’s historic vote, the Archdiocese of Newark along with the dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Metuchen, and Paterson published a list of 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.  The Archdiocese of Newark led the list with 63 priests, Camden’s diocese listed 56 priests and one deacon; Trenton’s diocese named 30 priests; the Paterson diocese listed 28; and Metuchen’s diocese named nine plus two others who are currently the subject of State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal formed a task force in the fall to conduct a criminal investigation into sexual abuse by clergy in the state, shortly after a Pennsylvania grand jury report identified over 300 priests. The lists released by the diocese don’t include details about specific allegations or when they are alleged to have happened; rather, any details about the named priests and the crimes of which they are accused come from court records or previously published reports.

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St. Joseph Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Bayonne, New Jersey

Several priests who served in the Newark archdiocese have been accused of molesting boys as part of their volunteer work with Boy Scout troops, according to published reports. Others named in the release were arrested, convicted or pleaded guilty and were returned to service after probation or treatment, according to court records and published reports.

Carmen Sita changed his name to Gerald Howard after being sentenced to probation and receiving treatment and began serving as a priest in the Jefferson City, Missouri, diocese where he was assigned to a parish attached to a school. He was later accused of abusing teenage boys and was convicted a second time. The Missouri diocese reported Howard is currently incarcerated.

New Jersey is the latest of what is expected to be more states that will reform their statutes of limitations in order to properly address the scourge of childhood sexual abuse. 

New Jersey Latest Battleground in Child Sex Abuse Fight

Seal of New Jersey

New Jersey, like its larger neighbor New York, has been considering legislation to expand or abolish the statute of limitations concerning child sex abuse for a decade now.  Each time legislation has been proposed in New Jersey it has been defeated.  Not so this year.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill that would greatly expand the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in New Jersey. Now, the full Senate will consider the legislation.

The proposed legislation would allow child victims to sue up until they turn 55 or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The current limit is two years. Adult victims also would have seven years from the discovery of the abuse. The bill also would give a two-year window to victims who were previously barred by the statute of limitations and allows victims to pursue claims as individuals as well as institutions.

A previous version of the bill, which eliminated the statute of limitations altogether, was approved by the same committee in 2010 and 2012. But the bill died before getting a full Senate vote. Nor did it have the stated support of the governor at the time.

Now, Gov. Murphy is backing the bill, and state Sen. Joe Vitale thinks he has the votes in the Senate — no doubt thanks to the horrid Pennsylvania grand jury report about clergy abuse.

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The legislation, if passed and signed into law by the Governor, would allow many survivors who had been previously denied the right to bring a lawsuit against the Catholic Church, access to the courts. The civil justice system would provide a gateway to the many secrets locked behind the doors of the Catholic Church and thus far protected by civil statutes of limitations that are unfair to survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  It is in the discovery phase of a Catholic Church lawsuit that documents are made available that show the patterns of abuse, cover-up, and corruption in the Catholic Church.  Without those documents, we are often left to speculate or conjecture as to what the bishop knew about the priest abuser and when he knew it.  The documents also provide the public with a paper trail demonstrating what the bishop did once he was informed that a priest abused a child.  Did he transfer without informing the new diocese or parish?  Was he sent for treatment?  Was he allowed to continue working as a priest?  These are the crucial questions that are only answered in the context of a civil lawsuit. 

In Pennsylvania, the attorney general convened a grand jury that investigated every diocese in Pennsylvania.  The grand jury had subpoena power and was able to obtain these crucial documents.  We now know the terrible tragedy in Pennsylvania.  No diocese in the state was immune from the scourge and criminality of sexual abuse.  But we don’t know this in New Jersey.  We have bits and pieces of information but not the whole picture.  That is why this reform legislation is so important if the good people of New Jersey are going to finally deal with the problem of Catholic priest abuse in the state. 

Australian Cardinal Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Sexually Abusing Two Boys

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Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic official and the former head of Vatican finances, is heading to prison.  The 77-year-old cardinal is not eligible for parole for three years.  He plans to appeal his conviction and has consistently maintained his innocence.

It was the second trial that eventually led to Pell’s conviction on charges that he sexually molested two young choirboys while Archbishop of Melbourne.

Cardinal Pell in Rome in 2007

Cardinal Pell in Rome in 2007

Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Cardinal Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.

Cardinal Pell faced as many as 50 years in prison after being convicted in December for the molestation of two choir boys while he was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s. Pell must serve a minimum of three years and eight months before he is eligible for parole.

He will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

Pell was convicted for the assault of the 13-year-old boys after he caught them swigging sacramental wine in a rear room of Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996. The jury also found Pell guilty of indecently assaulting one of the boys in a corridor more than a month later.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd of Victoria’s County Court said in his sentencing remarks that Pell’s age and history of cardiac issues were a “significant” factor in his sentencing decision. For the same reasons, Kidd also said did not consider there to be a high risk of Pell reoffending.

During the nearly hour-long sentencing remarks, Kidd called Pell’s attack “brazen” and suggested that the cleric was “breathtakingly arrogant” in his attack on the young boys.

“There is no evidence of your remorse or contrition,” Kidd said Wednesday in court.

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Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archevêque de Lyon, 2008

Pell is not the only cardinal making news in the criminal courts.  French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon and one of France’s most senior religious figures, was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report between July 2014 and June 2015 the sexual abuse allegations made against a priest from his diocese, Bernard Preynat, in the 1980s and 1990s. Preynat is due to go on trial later this year.

“The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgment. It’s an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion,” Yves Sauvayre, a lawyer for the victims, told reporters outside the court in Lyon.

Unlike Cardinal Pell, Barbarin will not face any time behind bars due to the suspended nature of his sentence.  However, the conviction is a blow to Catholicism in France and all Europe where the ancient faith is being rocked by a sex abuse scandal that never seems to go away.

California Governor Jerry Brown Vetoes Bill Written to Assist Survivors of Sexual Abuse

governor jerry brown campaigning

Once again, Governor Jerry Brown has failed survivors of sexual abuse in California.  As he did in 2013, Brown vetoed a bill that would have provided opportunities for sex abuse survivors in California to seek justice in the courts.

The bill, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would have allowed victims to file abuse claims until they are 40 years old. It also would have permitted those who have repressed memories of abuse to sue within five years of unearthing the cause of their trauma.

“I’m exceptionally disappointed that even after the #MeToo movement, after the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, that the governor isn’t doing what he can to reduce harm caused by sexual abuse,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Under current law, victims can sue a third party that may have ignored or covered up abuse — such as a private school or a church — until they are 26 years old or three years after coming to terms with repressed memories, whichever occurs later.

In explaining his veto, Governor Brown noted, “There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” Brown wrote in the 2013 memo. “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost of disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.”

young man looking out into ocean

While what he says is true in most instances, survivors of sexual abuse are a unique exception to this principle.  Research has shown that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not capable of coming forward until many years after the abuse occurred, sometimes it takes decades.  In some tragic instances, the survivor never comes forward.

In cases where the abuse involves a clergy person such as in the Catholic priest abuse cases, the trauma is intensified because the perpetrator is supposed to represent God to the survivor.  The breach of such trust causes untold psychic damage that is not easily or quickly understood or assessed.  The transcendent dimension of the abuse should have allowed Governor Brown to recognize that justice is not served by upholding the traditional statute of limitations in such cases.

One has to wonder the influence Brown’s lifelong Catholicism and Jesuit training on his decision.  In a 2015 interview with the Sacramento Bee, Brown had this to say about his faith:

“I think the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that’s orderly, that has purpose and that ultimately is a positive,” Brown said. “And that’s very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite, in terms of the wars, the corruption and the breakdown. And so even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there is a way forward. And I would attribute that in some way to my Catholic upbringing and training.”

Of course, one could just as easily argue that as a Catholic, Brown is duty bound to bring healing to those who are suffering and comfort to those who are afflicted.  In this case, Governor Brown did not choose the better part.  For that, he shouldn’t be rewarded.


Photo Credit: Bob Tilden via WikiMedia Commons

Australian Archbishop Found Guilty of Covering Up Priest Abuse

australian archbishop philip wilson

Photo Credit to the Archdiocese of Adelaide via ncregister.com


Just when the Catholic Church thought that it was getting a bit of positive traction with the media, another abuse case swallows any positivity and reminds the world about the ongoing problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

This time it’s Australia and it involves an archbishop who used to be president of the country’s bishops’ conference.  He stood accused of covering up for a priest, James Fletcher, who stood accused of a serious indictable offence, after being told about it in 1976 when he was an assistant parish priest in the state of New South Wales.

Lawyers for Wilson, 67, had argued that he did not know that Fletcher had abused a boy. Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail in 2006 following a stroke.

Wilson is expected to be sentenced in June by a local court in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.

Last year, Australia completed a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.

The inquiry heard that seven percent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.

The Australian guilty verdict comes in the wake of Pope Francis’ trip to Chile and his handling of the child sex abuse in his native country.  The media had been covering the Pope’s interaction with a young gay man who’d been abused by a priest.  The press were generally favorable to the Pope and gave him high marks for his compassion and sensitivity but the Australian news will drown that out.

Michigan State Settles with Larry Nassar Survivors for $500 Million

michigan state university logo

The trustees of Michigan State University have agreed to settle sexual abuse lawsuits concerning Dr. Larry Nassar for $500 million.  The settlement will pay $425 million to the 332 girls and women who have come forward to date, averaging about $1.28 million per victim. Michigan State will set aside an additional $75 million in a trust fund for any victims who come forward in the future.

The proactive measure stands in stark contrast to the decades of denial and possible cover-up of Nassar’s behavior when he worked as a physician on Michigan State University’s campus.  The NY Times said the MSU settlement dwarfs other abuse settlements while the Washington Post opined that the settlement and the entire Nassar saga has had a significant impact on the university.

“The impact of the scandal on the university, which has about 39,000 undergraduate students, has been substantial, including the resignations of President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis in January, and may extend beyond the financial. The settlement surpasses the more than $109 million paid by Penn State University to settle claims by at least 35 people who accused assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse.”

The settlement applies to only Michigan State. The U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and famed former Olympic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi all still face lawsuits filed by Nassar victims, who include Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

The settlement negotiated through mediation is not only significant because of the amount paid to survivors but the additional $75 million placed into a trust fund to cover future payments for any survivors who have yet to come forward.  In so doing, the university acknowledged that Nassar may have abused more young women and is prepared to deal with that fact.  Since Nassar admitted that he used his position and authority to gain access to unsuspecting young athletes for decades, there very well may be more women victimized by Nassar at Michigan State University.


Photo Credit via Wikimedia Commons

Catholic Cardinal Ordered to Stand Trial for Abuse of Minors

catholic church cardinal george pell

A powerful Australian cardinal of the Catholic Church has been ordered to stand for two trials for the abuse of minors.  The judge in the case ruled that the two trials are necessary because the spat of allegations from two separate time periods, the 1970’s and the 1990’s, and should be tried separately.

On Wednesday, Judge Susan Pullen said a trial date was expected to be set during an administrative hearing on 16 May.

The Melbourne court did not publish a complete list of the allegations, but news reports indicated they involved alleged sexual offenses committed in the 1970s at a pool in Ballarat, where then-Father Pell was a priest, and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The 76-year-old Cardinal Pell, head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, took a leave of absence from his position in the summer of 2017 to face the charges. His lawyer told the court May 1 that he had already surrendered his passport.

National Catholic Reporter called the decision a “turning point” in the decades long sage of Catholic priest sex abuse of minors.

“Whatever the trial’s outcome, the judge’s decision marks the victory of accountability over impunity, and of the rule of secular law over the Vatican’s failed strategy of cover-up,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse tracking website BishopAccountability.org.

Another Catholic cardinal is expected to face trial in 2019. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, has been ordered to appear in court over charges he covered up abuse by Fr. Bernard Preynat.

Thus far, cardinals in the United States have avoided a criminal trial but that may change in the future given the high profile trials in Australia and France.

Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis to be the Vatican’s top financial adviser, is currently on leave from that post.


Photo Credit by Tony Gentile/Reuters via irishtimes.com