Church Sex Scandal Widens

— Hundreds More Catholic Clergy Accused Across CA

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say 1500 new lawsuits have been filed against the Roman Catholic Church in Northern CA alone. The Investigative Unit has independently reviewed nearly 700 of them.

By Candice Nguyen, Michael Bott, Mark Villarreal and Michael Horn

An NBC Bay Area analysis of nearly 700 lawsuits filed against Catholic institutions across Northern California over the past three years suggests the church’s child sexual abuse scandal in the region is significantly worse than the public previously knew.

More than 200 of the clergy and lay employees of the Catholic Church named in the wave of lawsuits have never been publicly accused of being sexually abusive towards children and teenagers until now, NBC Bay Area’s investigation found. Some of the newly accused continue to work as priests.

Other alleged perpetrators named in the civil filings have faced previous accusations but now face new claims, some of them dozens.

NBC Bay Area is in the process of reaching out to those accused in the lawsuits and anticipates publishing a complete list of names at the conclusion of that process.

While most local dioceses have released internal lists of suspected child predators in recent years, the new allegations threaten the credibility of those disclosures, according to victim advocates, who argue the dioceses’ lists should be significantly longer.

“I think it just shows what a pervasive, uncontrolled disaster was happening in the Catholic Church as far as children,” said East Bay attorney Rick Simons, who is serving as the plaintiffs’ co-liaison counsel for the coordinated civil cases hitting Catholic dioceses in Northern California.

In Northern California alone, Simons said more than 1,500 lawsuits were filed against Catholic dioceses during the state’s three-year lookback window, which closed at the end of December. In 2019, state lawmakers passed the lookback law allowing childhood victims of sexual abuse to file new lawsuits in civil court, no matter when the alleged abuse occurred.

“There are more accusations against previously unidentified perpetrator priests than I think most of us anticipated,” Simons said. The Diocese of Santa Rosa and the Diocese of San Diego have already stated the legal filings could lead them into bankruptcy.

Most of the alleged abusers are priests and other clergy, but they also include lay church employees, such as teachers and coaches at Catholic schools. Although rare, a handful of nuns have also been accused.

Among the newly accused priests are some high-profile names, such as Bishop Floyd Begin, the deceased founding bishop of the Diocese of Oakland.

A lawsuit filed in December accuses Begin of sexually abusing an unnamed 12-year-old girl on a single occasion in 1968, after he had already risen to bishop.

The plaintiff’s attorney did not respond to NBC Bay Area’s request to discuss the case.

Neither did a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oakland, which has told NBC Bay Area in the past it would not comment on any active litigation.

In a previous statement, however, the Diocese said, “As Bishop Barber has stated numerous times, he continues to work with leadership in the Oakland Diocese, both lay and clergy, to address the deep scars caused by sexual abuse of children, and how we can stop abuse.”

Like most dioceses in the area, NBC Bay Area found dozens of newly accused priests tied to the Oakland Diocese who are absent from its list of priests “credibly accused” of abusing children.

The list published by Oakland Bishop Michael Barber back in 2019 currently sits at 65 names, but NBC Bay Area’s review of lawsuits revealed recent accusations against more than 30 clergy absent from that list.

One such priest is Fr. John Garcia, a longtime priest who served at a handful of East Bay parishes, including Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Brentwood.

That’s the church Derek Lewis, 34, attended as a child in the late 1990s after his family moved to the small town.

“He was almost like a king or something,” Lewis said of the priest revered by many in the community.

After more than two decades of coping with painful memories, Lewis filed a lawsuit in November accusing Garcia of repeatedly sexually abusing him when he was just 8 years old.

It was the first time that Garcia, now dead, had been publicly accused.

“[He] raped me dozens of times,” said Lewis, standing outside the priest’s former living quarters where he says the abuse took place.

Lewis said he sometimes tried resisting the priest, but his father was battling cancer at the time, and he said Garcia turned that pain against him.

“He would tell me that and say, ‘OK, that’s up to you, that’s your decision’” Lewis recalls the priest telling him. “But just know that, if you go against God’s will this way, he might just punish you and take your dad.”

Terry Gross, Lewis’ attorney, said at least two others have since filed lawsuits alleging Garcia sexually assaulted them. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the claims against Garcia.

“When these individuals come forward, it’s their first step on their healing recovery, finally being to stand up and say this was wrong,” Gross said.

Lewis said the abuse later led him down a path of addiction, incarceration, and homelessness.

“I think what you find with many of these victims and survivors of this type of clergy abuse is that their lives become a spiral,” Gross said.

Now sober, holding down a steady job, and raising his 2-year-old daughter with his girlfriend, Lewis said he’s finally in a place where he can fight back.

“I feel like the church has got away with all this stuff,” Lewis said. “Like Garcia won, he beat me. The church beat me. So now, I’m not that same little naïve boy anymore.”

Lewis is one of the rare plaintiffs who is suing the church using his real name, which he hopes might give others the courage to follow in his footsteps.

“I have to take my stand against [Garcia] and against [the church] and make it known to everybody that what happened was wrong in every sort of way,” Lewis said. “If me coming forward using my name and my face can help somebody, that’s what the whole objective is.”

Complete Article HERE!

Benedictine order admits keeping cleric at Marmion Academy for years after child sex abuse accusations

— The Catholic order’s Marmion Abbey has posted a list of “established offenders.” Unanswered: why Brother Jerome Skaja stayed with the order for years despite “multiple” credible accusations of molesting minors.

Marmion Academy in Aurora, a Catholic school run by the Benedictine religious order, whose leadership has posted a list of its clergy members found to have sexually abused minors. It has two names on it, both men now dead.

By Robert Herguth

The Catholic religious order that runs Marmion Academy in Aurora is acknowledging for the first time that one of its members had “established allegations” of child sex abuse in the 1970s and remained at the school for years.

During that time, Brother Jerome Skaja was accused of more sexual misconduct involving minors.

The Benedictines long hid the fact that Skaja, who died in 2016, had been accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a Marmion student in the 1980s, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported in October — and also that they reached a secret financial settlement with the accuser when he threatened to sue when he turned 18.

In December, the Rev. John Brahill, a Marmion leader, said the order planned to post its first public list of “established offenders,” as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has done and as many other Catholic religious orders have. Now, the order has done that. Its list includes two people: Skaja and the Rev. Augustine Jones, a twice-convicted sex offender who died in 2007.

Skaja — who oversaw intramurals and was involved in fundraising for the school — had “multiple” incidents in which he was accused of molesting minors in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the new list, which says the accusations have been deemed to be “true.”

Brother Jerome Skaja in the 1987 school yearbook at what was then called Marmion Military Academy in Aurora.
Brother Jerome Skaja in the 1987 school yearbook at what was then called Marmion Military Academy in Aurora. It’s now Marmion Academy.

“Established allegations are defined as such — based upon the facts and the circumstances, there is objective certainty that the accusation is true and that an incident of sexual abuse of a minor has occurred,” a note posted with the list says. “The names on the list . . . are based on a process of consultation with an independent review board and is not a legal judgement.”

The Benedictines’ leaders won’t say when they learned of Skaja’s sexual misconduct, what, if anything, was done about the accusations in the 1970s and why he was allowed to stay with the order until 1988.

That was the year Skaja was “dismissed,” the order’s posting says.

Brahill won’t say why Skaja was forced out at that point even though order leaders had known for years by then about the accusations from the Marmion student who got the settlement that Skaja had repeatedly sexually abused him.

That accuser, a former prosecutor now living out of state, says he was assigned to collect athletic equipment after intramural sporting events at Marmion, which at the time was a military-style Catholic boarding school, and take it to a secluded “basement area.”

A letter to the Marmion Academy community from the Rev. John Brahill in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation published last October that revealed decades of accusations of sexual abuse and coverups at the Aurora school.
A letter to the Marmion Academy community from the Rev. John Brahill in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation published last October that revealed decades of accusations of sexual abuse and coverups at the Aurora school.

The accuser, who spoke on the condition he be identified only by his initials, J.K., says he eventually reported what happened to the Rev. Vincent Bataille, then the dean of students.

“He told me to treat it as a dead subject — not to tell my classmates, not to tell my parents,” J.K. says.

The mother of one of the teenager’s classmates went to the abbot in charge after hearing about the accusations and was treated “as a hysterical woman,” the former classmate told the Sun-Times. Another former classmate said J.K. told him at the time he’d been sexually assaulted.

No records could be found to indicate Bataille ever notified police, though Illinois law requires school officials to report suspected child abuse.

J.K. says he wasn’t offered counseling or an apology and that no one from the school contacted his family.

The Rev. Vincent Bataille.
The Rev. Vincent Bataille.

Bataille has since been promoted to abbot overseeing Benedictine monasteries with nearly 500 monks across North America and beyond. He couldn’t be reached.

The Benedictines’ list calls clergy sexual abuse of minors “morally reprehensible” and offers a public apology.

That’s not enough, J.K. says: “My takeaway from this is they don’t care, whatever their message was on their website. It’s all platitude. It’s all part of their continuing effort at CYA.”

He says he wasn’t contacted by anyone from Marmion or the order during the internal review that led to the list being posted.

Another former Marmion student who says another now-deceased Benedictine at Marmion once got “touchy-feely” with him — putting his hand on his inner thigh — says he wasn’t contacted, either. That cleric isn’t on the list.

A official list of Marmion monks with “established allegations” of sexual misconduct.
The official list of Marmion monks with “established allegations” of sexual misconduct.

Brahill won’t discuss the order’s review board or say how many settlements the order has paid over accusations of abuse.

The Diocese of Rockford, the arm of the church that includes Aurora, won’t comment.

Another Benedictines group, long affiliated with Benet Academy in Lisle, hasn’t made public a list of predator clergy. The Rev. Austin Murphy, its abbot, won’t comment.

The Benet Lake Abbey, located in Wisconsin just over the Illinois state line, recently released its first public list of credibly accused members. There were six, most of them now dead.

Complete Article HERE!

French prosecutors drop ‘sexual assault’ probe into cardinal

Jean-Pierre Ricard admitted in public to behaving in “a reprehensible way” towards a young girl 35 years ago.

French prosecutors said on Saturday they had closed an investigation launched into a cardinal who admitted sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl because the statute of limitations had expired, sparking anger among campaigners.

The probe was launched in November last year after a statement by Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired bishop made a cardinal by pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

But Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens said: “The case was closed due to the statute of limitations.”

The most serious sexual offences in France, such as rape, usually have a statute of limitations of 30 years.

Ricard, now 78, said in a letter last year to the church hierarchy that he had “behaved in a reprehensible way” towards a young girl 35 years ago.

Taken into custody on February 2, he told investigators he had “kissed” the girl, who he said had been about 13 years old. He had also embraced her and “caressed her over her clothes”, but “there was no sexual intercourse”, he added.

The victim told investigators the assaults had happened over a three-year period.

Ricard’s confession came after a devastating 2021 report in France estimated that Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.

Be Brave, which campaigns to end sexual violence against children, denounced the decision by the French legal system as a “masquerade” and a “travesty” of justice.

“Nothing has changed” since the publication of the French report into sexual abuse by the clergy, the group said in a statement, calling for wide-ranging judicial and parliamentary inquiries into paedophile criminal activity.

They also called for an end to the statute of limitations on this kind of crime.

Senator Xavier Iacovelli, whose parliamentary group forms part of the presidential majority, wrote on Twitter that it was “no longer conceivable to have this statute of limitations which prevents the judgement of sexual predators”.

The Bishops’ Conference of France said its thoughts were with the victim because of everything that had been brought up for her again with the investigation.

The Vatican announced its own preliminary investigation into Ricard last November and that is still ongoing. AFP

Complete Article HERE!

Md. judge okays release of redacted report on Catholic clergy sex abuse

Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) waves to the House of Delegates after he is sworn into office on Jan. 3 in Annapolis.

By < A judge on Friday approved the release of a redacted version of the Maryland attorney general’s grand jury report on child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Maryland Circuit Court Judge Robert Taylor wrote that Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) has until March 13 to present a list of names of people who aren’t accused in the report of abuse but whose behavior “could raise questions” about the institutional church’s handling of abuse over the past 80 years. Brown’s office has identified 208 people who may fall into this category and whose names will be initially redacted from a released report, Taylor’s ruling said.

A redacted report would be released once the court has confirmed the list. It wasn’t immediately clear how long after March 13 that would take.

While the secrecy of grand juries is important, Taylor wrote, it’s not absolute.

“The hundreds of victims of clerical abuse over the years have suffered from decades of systemic injustice … the passage of time, the changes in criminals laws over the years and the concerted efforts of various individuals within the Archdiocese have effectively ensured that the perpetrators of abuse identified in the Report will escape any form of formal criminal sanction,” Taylor wrote. “The same can be said for the individuals who went to sometimes extraordinary lengths to protect abusers, bury accusations and essentially enable the rape and torture of children and young adults for many years.”

“The only form of justice that may now be available is a public reckoning … keeping this report from the public is an injustice,” he said. “Continued delay and secrecy are far more damaging to the cause of justice than what might be suffered by these individuals in feeling compelled to justify their behavior.”

Brown on Friday said that his office is “pleased with the Court’s order today.” He said his office “will move expeditiously to comply with the court’s order and prepare a redacted copy of the Report to be released upon review and approval by the Court.”

The archdiocese has cooperated in the four-year grand jury probe, including turning over hundreds of thousands of documents, and has said it doesn’t oppose the release of the report. However it is paying part of the legal fees of an anonymous group of people who are named in the report but not accused of abuse. The judge’s order Friday said there are 16 people in that group.

Those 16 are part of the bigger group of over 200 who may be accused of things like covering up, silencing victims or participating in the transfer of abusers.

On Friday, Christian Kendzierski, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said in a statement that the Archdiocese is “ever-aware” of pain endured by abuse survivors, and “once again offers its sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them and who failed to respond to them with care and compassion.”

“The Archdiocese continues to pray this report brings some measure of healing of the deep wounds caused by the scourge of child sexual abuse in the life of the Church,” Kendzierski said in the statement.

Archbishop William Lori has framed the report as distorting the church’s present, and said multiple times that the church stopped mishandling cases more than three decades ago.

The judge’s ruling noted an important subtext: the Maryland General Assembly is in a session where long-proposed measures to open new, expanded windows for criminal or civil charges to be filed against abusers look more likely to pass than in recent years.

Lawmakers are considering ways to make a legal path for adult survivors of long-ago child sex abuse to sue the institutions that once harbored their attackers.< While there is no statute of limitations on criminal child sex abuse charges, civil suits seeking damages must generally be filed by the time the adults turn 38. Efforts to create a retroactive window to bring more claims have, in recent years, been complicated by a 2017 provision that many consider to have granted some immunity to the Catholic Church and other institutions.

But against the backdrop of the report reviewing internal documents from the church, lawmakers who have been advocating for years see a much better chance at success.

This year’s proposal also contains provisions meant to allay concerns the church could be bankrupted by decades old cases that would be difficult to defend: it caps damages at $1.5 million for private institutions and $850,000 for public ones, such as schools, that were grossly negligent in preventing child sex abuse.

“This is not a money grab,” Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), who has championed such “look-back windows” to bring lawsuits since 2015, said this week. “There’s no amount of money that’s going to undo what happened, anyway. But this way we’re fixing the fear that the lawyers are just going to jump in there and try to capitalize.”

The measure in the Senate was heard Thursday, and a similar one will be taken up in the House next week. No votes are scheduled at the moment.

The 456-page grand jury report found 600 victims of clergy sexual abuse over 80 years. The report accused 158 priests of abuse, 43 of whom had not be previously identified in public, according to a motion filed in November requesting the public release of the full report.

Because the report relies on grand jury testimony, former attorney general Brian Frosh (D), who left office late last year, sought court permission to unseal the report.

The anonymous group of 16 named in the report had sought all proceedings sealed until they could make a case to the judge before he decided whether to release it. The report includes allegations of coverup and mishandling as well as abuse.

According to the ruling Friday, the documents turned over by the church spanned from the 1940s until 2022.

The ruling Friday also says Brown is not seeking any criminal indictments or charges as a result of the investigation.

Complete Article HERE!

Jesuits say abuse accusations against priest are highly credible

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ

By Philip Pullella

The Roman Catholic religious order of Jesuits said on Tuesday that accusations of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse against a prominent member of the order were highly credible and that restrictions on him had been tightened.

The order said on its website that it would start an “internal procedure” against the priest, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, 69, a well-known religious artist.

About 25 people, mostly former nuns, have accused Rupnik of various forms of abuse, either when he was a spiritual director of a community of nuns in his native Slovenia about 30 years ago, or after he moved to Rome to pursue his career as an artist.

Rupnik has not spoken publicly of the accusations, which have rattled the worldwide order, of which the pope is a member, and the Vatican since breaking into the open in November.

His superior in the order, Father Johan Verschueren, said Rupnik had declined to meet Jesuit investigators.

In an update posted online, Verschueren said the number of people who had made similar accusations indicated that they were “very highly” credible, particularly since some of the accusers did not know each other. He said the abuses appeared to have taken place from the mid-1980s until 2018.

Repeated attempts by Reuters to reach Rupnik through his school for religious art in Rome were unsuccessful and he did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.

Rupnik specialises in mosaics and came to prominence when the late Pope John Paul II commissioned him to redesign a chapel in the Vatican between 1996-1999. He has since designed chapels around the world.

Some women have given accounts to Italian media saying Rupnik used his position as their spiritual director to coerce them to have sex with him.

One ex-nun told how he used what she called psychological control to force her into sexual acts, and deployed “cruel psychological, emotional and spiritual aggression” to “destroy” her, particularly after she refused to have three-way sex.

Verschueren’s Italian-language statement used both male and female pronouns to describe Rupnik’s accusers. The newspaper La Repubblica quoted him as saying two men had alleged abuse by the artist, though he did not specify the type of abuse.

After allegations against Rupnik were first reported, the Jesuit headquarters acknowledged that he had been banned in 2019 from hearing confessions and leading spiritual retreats.

After new accusations in the past two months, Rupnik was also banned from carrying out any public artistic activity, Verschueren said, adding that he could eventually be expelled from the order.

Complete Article HERE!