Sexual assault and reproductive coercion share similar dynamics: Both are forms of violence that intimately violate another person’s body. The Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandals, combined with its efforts to control women’s reproductive choices by banning abortion and attacking contraception, expose a troubling pattern of sexual sociopathology. This conduct fundamentally undermines the Church’s claims to moral authority on issues of sexuality.
By now, the stories are familiar and well documented.
The 2006 documentary Deliver Us From Evil chillingly reveals how Catholic bishops repeatedly relocated a priest named Oliver O’Grady from parish to parish in an attempt to cover up his rape of dozens of children.
The 2015 Academy Award-winning film, Spotlight, dramatizes the true story of the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the 1970s and the cover up by the Boston archdiocese.
In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury published a 1,356-page report documenting decades of sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic priests who victimized thousands of children in six dioceses. The report found a “systemic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”
But incidents of sexual abuse by priests are not confined to the past. On Dec. 14, a federal court sentenced 68-year-old Providence-based Catholic priest James W. Jackson to six years in a federal prison for downloading and storing thousands of files containing child pornography on his computer in the church rectory. Authorities found 12,000 images and 1,300 videos of child pornography, including videos of prepubescent females portrayed in acts of bestiality and sadomasochism.
The Catholic Church also keeps sexually abusive clergy in positions of authority. A Massachusetts newspaper recently reported on a case where a priest had sex with a parishioner in the 1990s after leading her to believe he could cure her lesbianism by having sex with her. He remains in active ministry at a university, working with vulnerable young people.
In a recent case in New Orleans, an archbishop worked to free a Catholic priest convicted of raping an altar boy by attempting to get the victim to support the release. According to The Guardian, “representatives of the church that he had been raised to believe in approached him at his home, at his job and at a relative’s funeral to ask him to lend his support to efforts to secure an early release for his rapist.”
To avoid accountability, the Catholic Church opposes laws designed to help survivors of sexual abuse. Between 2011 and 2019, the Catholic Church spent $10.6 million in eight Northeastern states to lobby against such laws.
In Massachusetts, for example, the Catholic Church spent $537,551 in this period. Massachusetts law limits liability of nonprofit charities to $20,000, a figure so minimal it often deters attorneys from suing the Catholic Church. State lawmakers are now working to eliminate this immunity in cases of child sex abuse. They are also working to remove time limits for civil liability for child sex abuse, which the Boston Archdiocese has opposed.
Another strategy the Catholic Church uses to avoid accountability is to file for bankruptcy so they do not have to pay court-ordered penalties to compensate the victims of clergy sex abuse, as they recently did in California and Baltimore.
The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity.
To fight back, survivors formed an organization in 1989 called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has documented widespread sexual abuse by priests, and the repeated attempts by bishops and other church leaders to cover up and excuse this abuse. Today, SNAP has over 25,000 members with support groups in over 60 cities across the U.S. and the world.
The Catholic Church positions itself as a moral authority on sexual matters, yet it has been responsible for the widespread sexual abuse of numerous children and vulnerable adults in its care while refusing to take responsibility for the resulting harm. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade and bankrolled the movement to ban abortion nationwide, endangering the lives of millions of women and pregnant people. They are also fighting to grant zygotes, embryos, and fetuses full constitutional rights that women no longer have.
In the many hospitals they control, the Catholic Church blocks access to reproductive healthcare, including emergency contraception for rape victims, medically necessary sterilization, and abortion care. Due in part to hospital consolidations, the Catholic Church now controls one in every six acute care hospital beds in the United States. The first woman to die because she was not offered a life-saving abortion due to a Catholic-backed abortion ban enacted in 2021 was Yeniifer Alvarez-Estrada Glick. She died in July 2022 in Luling, Texas.
Catholic priests and bishops perpetrate and tolerate astounding levels of sexual violence, and then deny their victims the right to prevent or end life-threatening pregnancies.
The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity. Both are forms of intimate assault that deny the bodily autonomy of women in particular.
Given the Catholic Church’s history of clergy sexual abuse, and their callous disregard for the reproductive health and safety of women, why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?
How is it that supposedly-celibate men, who know nothing about women’s bodies and who tolerate, cover up and excuse widespread sexual abuse in the church, have the right to speak about anything related to women’s sexuality? Is the unnatural suppression of their own sexuality perhaps fueling their frantic attempts to suppress the sexuality of others? Are their actions, at some level, due to a jealous rage that others are experiencing the natural sexual pleasure they deny themselves?
The essence of rape is taking control of another person’s body against their will. In the same way, compelling another person to carry a pregnancy to term is taking control of another person’s body against their will. Rape and reproductive coercion are two sides of one coin: misogynist violence. The emperor has no clothes. Why can’t people recognize this?
Most reporters have covered a story so disturbing that they never want to think about it again — yet the evil subject makes it impossible to ever forget.
My cross to bear is Father Eleuterio Ramos.
The Montebello native terrorized Catholic parishes in Orange and Los Angeles counties during the 1970s and 1980s, once admitting to detectives that he had molested “at least” 25 boys. Church officials knew about Ramos’ depravity almost from the beginning of his career, yet never turned him over to law enforcement or even removed him from the ministry. Instead, they moved him from parish to parish until the Diocese of Orange asked the Diocese of Tijuana in 1985 to accept him — after he confessed to having “slipped,” according to a church memo.
The Orange diocese settled five sex abuse lawsuits against Ramos during the 1990s. Eleven lawsuits were still pending when Ramos died 20 years ago this March at age 65. I was a young reporter at the time. The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was my first big story — and Ramos was my Moby Dick.
I interviewed many of his victims, shared tips and photos with the lawyers who were trying to find his whereabouts just like I was, and read through hundreds of pages of once-secret personnel files. They revealed in excruciating detail not just Ramos’ sex crimes but the sin of silence practiced by his superiors. He was the subject of the longest story of my career — over 10,000 words — in late 2005 and dozens of articles in the years that followed.
Yet long after my regular coverage petered out, Ramos remains in my life.
He’s there every time I attend a baptism, wedding or funeral at St. Anthony Claret in Anaheim, a church frequented by people from my ancestral ranchos in Zacatecas that is the last O.C. parish where Ramos served. Every couple of years, a Ramos victim finds my work on their molester and reaches out to thank me. Any time I’ve had an urge to return to the Catholic Church, I remember why I stopped attending Mass in the first place: my disgust at the local bishops and monsignors who let Ramos molest with impunity.
Ramos has cast such a specter over me that when I received a text from attorney John Manly that his firm had reached a large settlement in a clerical sex abuse case, I immediately guessed who the perpetrator was.
The plaintiff alleged that Ramos and another priest, Siegfried Widera, molested him while he attended Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana during the 1970s and 1980s. Church leaders in Orange and Los Angeles counties did nothing to stop the abuse, despite repeated warnings from parishioners, staff and even a fellow priest, the lawsuit alleged.
The $10-million settlement, finalized in December, requires the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Ramos began his career and which had jurisdiction over Catholic churches in Orange County until 1976, to pay $500,000. The Orange diocese will cover the other $9.5 million.
Through Manly, the plaintiff declined to speak to me. The Times does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
In a statement, spokesperson Jarryd Gonzales said that the Orange diocese “deeply regrets any past incidences of sexual abuse,” adding that “the allegations in this case date back more than 40 years and do not reflect the Diocese of Orange as it stands today.”
Archdiocese of Los Angeles spokesperson Yannina Diaz said she couldn’t comment on the terms of the settlement, which was finalized in December. The archdiocese “stands against any sexual misconduct and is resolute in our support for victim-survivors of abuse regardless of when the abuse occurred,” she said.
The recent settlement is Manly, Stewart & Finaldi’s largest involving an individual plaintiff in a sex abuse case against the Catholic church and one of nearly 4,000 cases filed against Catholic dioceses across California under a 2020 state law that opened a three-year window for sex abuse victims to sue, with no statute of limitations. Manly, who with his law partner, Morgan Stewart, has spent nearly the past quarter-century suing the Catholic Church in California and beyond, is handling over 200 of those cases, 25 of them against the Orange diocese.
Nine of the lawsuits name Ramos.
Attorney John Manly, left, announces a nine-figure settlement in the cases of former patients of longtime UCLA gynecologist/oncologist James Heaps in 2022.
Thousands of clients. Over $1.5 billion in settlements.
Manly and Stewart sat at opposite ends of a huge table along with Courtney Thom, a former Orange County sex crimes prosecutor who joined their firm three years ago. I’ve known the two men for 20 years now, and they really haven’t changed. Manly remains the loud one with a wicked sense of humor and the bluster of a defensive line coach, while Stewart is still the quiet-yet-forceful voice of reason.
We exchanged our usual pleasantries, then got down to the business that seemed to reunite us every couple of years.
“I’m up to 62 [Ramos] victims,” Stewart said. “Every f— place that had a school, they placed him there.”
“You have all these connecting pieces, and church leaders didn’t do anything,” Manly interjected. Then he threw his hands over his head. “Well, they did worse than that. They actively concealed.”
Manly first heard about Ramos in the late 1990s, when he was deposing then-Orange Bishop Norman McFarland — who presided over my First Communion — in another sex abuse case. At one point, McFarland named one of Ramos’ victims, a friend of Manly who had graduated alongside him at Mater Dei but never told him about the abuse.
Manly asked for a break. He went to the bathroom and vomited.
“That event is the reason I stopped going to Mass,” he said.
In late 2004, his firm settled five Ramos cases against the Orange diocese as part of a $100-million settlement involving 87 victims — at the time, the largest settlement against a Catholic diocese in the U.S. They moved on to other cases, but Ramos’ pervasiveness and perversity haunted the two.
“He’s a case study of how to molest boys,” said Stewart.
“The thing about Ramos is that he’s so relentless at what he did, and so blatant,” Manly added. “He never stopped hiding things at all.”
Morgan Stewart, pictured, and John Manly have represented sex-abuse survivors for over 20 years at their law offices in Irvine. Their firm currently has over 200 cases against the Catholic dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Taking on more Ramos cases allowed Stewart to find new evidence of how far church officials went to cover up for the priest. Personnel files showed that the Orange diocese removed Ramos from Immaculate Heart of Mary and sent him to a Massachusetts recovery facility for Catholic priests — for alleged alcoholism. Stewart got a sworn affidavit from Ramos’ counselor at the facility, who said she had recommended that he not return to the ministry.
“If you know anything about Ramos, you know the depth of hurt he caused,” Manly exclaimed, his angry voice ringing in the conference room. Stewart and Thom nodded. “So why did they keep him? People kept threatening to call the police. There’s all this reporting, and nothing.”
I, too, found new connections going through my Ramos files. I once uncovered a 1975 Archdiocese of Los Angeles memo addressed to a Monsignor Hawkes, recommending that Ramos enter psychological care at the suggestion of “the district attorney as a result of a recent incident.”
Reading it again, I realized who the monsignor was: Benjamin Hawkes, long one of the most powerful men in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and someone who church officials concluded had molested boys and settled with two of his victims.
Ramos remains the gift that keeps on giving — gifts no one should ever want to receive.
After speaking to them for about an hour, I asked Manly and Stewart if going after monsters like Ramos ever weighed on them.
“What am I going to do?” Manly deadpanned. “Sell hot dogs?” Then he got serious.
“For 25 years, I’ve made close friends, and I think our work has changed the world.” Going after sex abuses “was my vocation,” Manly said.
“I don’t intend to stop,” Stewart added. “I spoke to 10 survivors this morning. What keeps me going is every one of those expressed their gratitude. They’ll say, ‘When I see your name in the paper, I say, ‘I’m proud you’re my lawyer.’ You see these people that need a voice, and you give it to them.”
“I wreck every cocktail party when I tell them what I do,” Manly cracked, unable to resist another joke, because that’s the type of guy he is. Then he grew quiet.
“But like the saying goes, you want to be on the side of the angels.”
It can take decades for an adult who survived sexual abuse as a child to bring a lawsuit. That’s the case for many who were abused by trusted members of the community, like Catholic priests. But in Massachusetts, even if a survivor of clergy abuse decides to sue, state laws can stand in the way of justice.
The first hurdle is the statute of limitations. If a victim is older than 53 and it’s been more than 7 years since they realized the abuse harmed them, the statute of limitations applies — meaning it’s likely too late to bring a lawsuit.
The second obstacle is known as the charitable immunity law, which applies to nonprofit charities. It generally limits the liability of charitable organizations, including Catholic dioceses, to $20,000. (Medical malpractice lawsuits against a nonprofit provider are capped at $100,000.)
Eric MacLeish has been one of the lead attorneys on clergy abuse cases against the Archdiocese of Boston and has sued all the dioceses in the state.
“This law artificially caps the liability of religious organizations and other charitable organizations, making it far more difficult to obtain a just and fair result for survivors of sexual abuse or people who are bringing any type of cause of action against a nonprofit corporation in Massachusetts,” he said.
MacLeish called it an illegitimate law.
“You’re looking really at not only an anachronistic law, that is not supported by any consideration of public policy, but one that cuts off arbitrarily the rights of survivors to hold religious organizations accountable for their misconduct,” MacLeish said.
‘Worst’ charitable immunity law ‘in the country’
Kathryn Robb is the executive director of Child USAdvocacy, which lobbies lawmakers to pass legislation that protects children. Robb said most states have abolished charitable immunity or limited it to what an insurer would cover.
“Massachusetts has the worst charitable immunity statute in the country,” she said.
Robb said her group is working with state lawmakers to eliminate the $20,000 cap for child sexual abuse claims.
“It’s time for Massachusetts to come out of the dark ages,” she said.
Massachusetts used to give nonprofits complete immunity from all liability, based on the idea that charities get their money from public donations and those funds should be used only for charitable work. In 1971, lawmakers took away this blanket immunity, but capped damages.
“When the charitable immunity law was enacted, most charities were shoestring operations. And it was to protect these do-gooders from having a slip-and-fall case that would would prevent them from continuing their good deeds,” said John Stobierski, a lawyer who has represented survivors in Springfield.
“That purpose has long passed,” he said, “because most charities — I shouldn’t say all — but a charity like the Catholic Church is a very wealthy, powerful organization, just like a hospital. They’re not little Podunk entities that would wither if they had a significant lawsuit.”
For years, Massachusetts lawmakers have filed bills to do away with the charitable immunity cap or change it. This session, a set of House and Senate bills would eliminate it. Another set of proposals would amend it so it does not apply to child sexual abuse cases.
The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network said in a statement the current law balances the charitable purposes of a nonprofit and donor intent with an ability for plaintiffs to be compensated.
“The bills proposed to change charitable liability law would disrupt this balance, and run contrary to the long held standard that charitable assets be dedicated to advancement of the missions of nonprofit organizations,” the organization said in a statement. “Therefore we do not support those bills.”
The nonprofit network also noted that the charitable cap does not apply if the claims are about activities “outside or incidental to a nonprofit’s charitable mission and other non-tort claims.”
Catholic leaders also support keeping the cap in place, to ensure the church spends donations on services identified by its donors.
“[S]uch as [on] tuition assistance, charitable operations such as food pantries and homeless prevention, and individual parish support, to name but a few,” Raymond Delisle, chancellor and director of communications for the Diocese of Worcester, said in a statement. “The charitable immunity cap on lawsuit damages is critical to allow all charities, including the diocese, to make an impact for the public good in our communities.”
‘I cannot take your case’
Robb said because of the $20,000 cap, most attorneys won’t take child abuse cases against dioceses or any nonprofits.
“So it essentially stops all of these claims from coming forward, exposing bad actors, exposing bad practices and institutions,” she said. “It creates another level of coverup, which is really dangerous for our children and for our communities.”
Lynne Pottle said she was abused by a priest for more than four years starting when she was 12, in 1975, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the Worcester Diocese. She had gone to the priest for help because her own father was drinking and had abused her.
Decades later, she caught a TV news story showing survivors standing with their lawyer. The memories of abuse flooded back — and she contacted an attorney in Framingham about taking legal action against the Diocese of Worcester.
Skip Shea stands inside a building that was once known as the House of Affirmation, a treatment center in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, for pedophile priests. It was run by the Diocese of Worcester. The state’s charitable immunity cap got in the way of a lawsuit Shea filed against the diocese. The suit alleged a priest in the diocese sexually abused him when he was a minor.
“He said, ‘I cannot take your case,'” Pottle said.
She can’t remember the attorney’s name, but she remembers what he said.
“The lawyer actually said to me that $20,000 is not enough for him to be doing so much work,” Pottle said.“I felt just devastated. And I said, ‘No one cares. I can’t get any help for this. I can’t get any validation for it.'”
Skip Shea, now 63 years old, also tried to sue the Worcester Diocese.
“They started the deposition process and then I got a call from the lawyer saying, ‘There’s a charitable immunity cap, so we can’t continue to work,'” Shea said.
Shea said he was sexually abused by more than three priests in the diocese, starting at age 11 until he was over 16. He said the diocese offered him some money — even less than the cap.
They offered “$10,000 and I said, ‘I’ll take it if I can have a private meeting with the bishop,’ which I got,” Shea said.
Shea met with Bishop Robert Joseph McManus, who still leads the Worcester Diocese today.
“Told him everything that happened. Made him sit there and listen. I named the priest, everything I went through,” Shea said. “He had to hear it. It was a very uncomfortable meeting for him. However my battles with the church go, I have to give him credit for sitting there and taking it — because I know it wasn’t easy.”
The diocese said meetings with the bishop last as long as the survivor wants and can involve multiple meetings.
Pottle also met with McManus, in November 2016.
“I met with him just for a few minutes. And It was somewhat helpful, but not really,” she said. “What I said to the bishop was that it’s not what happened to us back then — it’s how we are managing our lives now as a result of what happened, people who are on medication, people who can’t work. Myself included.”
People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs — or who try to end their own lives.
The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Robert J. McManus, speaks at a news conference in Worcester, Massachusetts, March 9, 2004, when he was bishop-elect. McManus has met with those who were sexually abused by clergy at the diocese when they were minors. The diocese says meetings with the bishop last as long as the survivor wants and can involve multiple meetings.
The spokesperson for the Worcester Diocese, Ray Delisle, said in email that the diocese does not answer questions about specific survivors.
“A focus on the charitable immunity cap on damages in a lawsuit is far too simplistic for the response that our diocese has made for more than two decades to those who have been abused,” he said.
Delisle said the diocese’s response to people who have been abused can go well beyond the cap on legal damages. It has a licensed social worker who meets with victims and can authorize therapeutic support. He said the diocese has helped victims pay for medical and dental bills, housing and utilities — for years.
According to a Feb. 2023 report, Delisle said, only about a third of people who go to the diocese about abuse are seeking legal recourse.
The ‘worst of the four dioceses’
Attorney Carmen Durso represents people who are victims of child sexual abuse. He has had, and still has, cases in Worcester.
“In Massachusetts, they’re the worst of the four dioceses. There’s no two ways about it,” Durso said.
There’s nothing stopping a diocese from paying more than the cap.Durso said most do if they feel it’s a legitimate claim. But in his experience, he said, the Diocese of Worcester won’t pay more than $20,000 — and sometimes they pay less.
Lawyers’ fees take a third of what’s awarded, plus filing fees, the cost of a deposition and a report from a mental health professional, as Durso explains to his clients.
“‘It’ll take a year and a half to two years,'” he said he tells potential clients. “‘You will have to be deposed. It will be an unpleasant experience for you. At the end, you may or may not get a judgment. No one can guarantee what a jury will do. And if and when that happens, the net sum available to you will be $10,000 or less.'”
Even if a jury awards much more, a diocese can legally invoke the cap, so that’s all that can be collected.
Delisle, the Worcester Diocese spokesperson, pushed back on the criticism.
“While it is easy to view the institution as complicit when named as a defendant in a suit, the diocese is often caught in the middle between the alleged perpetrator of the abuse and the survivor,” Delisle said. “The diocese does not defend the priest who is represented by his own attorney. At times we will agree to a settlement, either with or without our insurer’s participation.”
There is a legal strategy Durso and other attorneys have used to get around the cap.
Trial lawyer Laura Mangini, who has about five cases against the Springfield Diocese, said this strategy involves suing an individualfor negligence — someone who worked for the diocese and who superviseda pedophile priest.
“Say there was a priest that knew another priest was abusing [a] child but didn’t do anything, didn’t tell anyone, and just kind of brush[ed] it under the rug. If you get a judgment against that priest, then they are not subject to the cap,” Mangini said.
That claim could be covered by the diocese’s insurance.
Some lawyers will also sue the abuser directly, though many priests don’t have any assets. And because the victims were abused as children, often the alleged pedophile priest and supervisor have died.
“Right now, the charitable immunity cap in Massachusetts still covers the intentional torts of priests,” Mangini said, noting a recent case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court indicates the justices may limit the cap’s application so it does not apply to child sexual abuse cases. “So there there is a growing sense that that might be changing in the next couple of years.”
The office of the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Springfield, Massachusetts, in a file photo.
Mangini recommends clients first report the abuse to the Springfield Diocese, which is required to report it to prosecutors. If there are no criminal charges, the case would go before a diocesan review board.
The case could be settled at that point or the survivor might file a lawsuit. If that happens, she said, the diocese will sometimes use the cap as leverage in negotiations.
Mangini said Springfield has paid more than $20,000 in some cases as part of a settlement. But, for a lot of survivors, she said, a lawsuit is not about the money.
“It’s about finally standing up for themselves and taking back their own control in the situation,” she said. “And for the jury and a community to say, ‘Yes, we acknowledge what happened to you. It was wrong.'”
The Diocese of Springfield said it does not assert charitable immunity for any case its review board finds credible unless a victim files a lawsuit. Then it said it’s “required by its insurers” to assert all legal defenses, including charitable immunity.
The diocese said it would not comment on the amount it pays without permission of survivors.
“The [Springfield] diocese negotiates in good faith in all its dealings with survivors,” a spokesperson said. “Evidence of that exists in the diocese’s granting reimbursement for health and mental health services to survivors regardless of whether or not he or she participates in the settlement program and even if he or she sues the diocese.”
‘A degree of validation’ or just ‘insulting’?
The Boston Archdiocese has its own compensation program. According to victims’ attorneys, an arbitrator, like a former judge, hears a complaint, decides if it’s valid, and how much money to award.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Boston pays about $75,000, plus the cost of therapy and medication that insurance doesn’t cover.
“To some victims it helps them gain a degree of validation to move on,” Garabedian said. “To other victims it’s insulting, thinking that, ‘Well, my being sexually abused 30 times or 20 times was only worth this amount of money in the eyes of the diocese, which allowed the sexual abuse to happen.’”
The archdiocese has not provided answers to questions — sent more than a month ago — about its compensation program. In early January, a spokesperson acknowledged receipt of the questions and said the archdiocese was working on a statement.
“It’s a private process,” Durso, a victims’ attorney, said. “It’s not appealable. You waive any court rights. But if you have a case, in which the likelihood is, if you go to court you can’t recover more than $20,000, it’s an appealing process for people who don’t have other options.”
Similarly, the Fall River Diocese has a mediation program.
Dan Martin, 60, said he was abused by a priest in Taunton starting when he was about 12. He said the $20,000 cap minimizes the damage caused by the abuse.
“When I think about the cap, I think that it’s laughable. To me, it’s a joke. The crime and the punishment don’t match,” Martin said.
Martin’s lawyer, Paula Bliss, said he brought his case to a mediation program at the Diocese of Fall River. She said that was really the only option due to the charitable cap. Bliss said it would have cost more than $20,000 in expenses just to bring a lawsuit.
“What this actually does, it keeps litigants out of a courtroom and it forecloses their ability to have their case heard by a jury of their peers,” Bliss said.
She said the Fall River program used the $20,000 cap as leverage when it offered an award. She wouldn’t say how much it was, but called it “peanuts.”
The Diocese of Fall River issued a statement saying it’s “resolved to do all it can to help survivors heal and make certain the diocese is accountable.”
“We have a process in place to evaluate claims and encourage survivors to come forward, even if those claims are from many decades ago,” the statement said. “If a claim is found to be credible, we routinely work to resolve claims above the charitable cap.”
In addition, the diocese said it offers supportive services to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families, including therapy.
‘You feel like you’re shot’
Pottle, who survived sexual assault in a Worcester church in the 1970s, said she deserves money, validation and a big apology. She said when the lawyer told her he could not take her case because of the cap, it robbed her of all hope.
“It was one of the moments in my life you feel like you’re shot,” she said. “You feel like you have a hole. And then you start to go on and search and search for help to heal that hole.”
Pottle hasn’t found a legal recourse for healing. She said when she met with a support group of other survivors, that helped. But she still suffers.
A cenotaph paying tribute to Father Junipero Serra is seen at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, California May 5, 2015. Pope Francis intends to declare Serra a saint at a Mass celebrated at the National Shrine in Washington on Sept 23 during his U.S. visit. The Franciscan friar built a series of missions along the Pacific coast in the latter 18th century, in what is now California, to spread the faith among Native Americans.
The Franciscan Friars of California, a Roman Catholic organization devoted to serving the poor, has filed for bankruptcy after facing nearly 100 lawsuits related to decades-old sex abuse claims.
The Oakland, California-based organization said in a Tuesday statement that it was driven to bankruptcy by a change in California state law that allowed sex abuse survivors to file decades-old complaints that were otherwise time-barred under the state’s statute of limitations.
Most of the 94 lawsuits filed against the Franciscan Friars were filed in California, where a 2019 law revived older sex abuse claims and led to the bankruptcies of the Catholic dioceses of San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Rosa.
All of the recent lawsuits against the Franciscan Friars of California are based on abuse that allegedly occurred at least 27 years ago, the group said in a Tuesday statement. Most of the friars accused of abuse are deceased, and the organization has long since cut ties with the six who are still alive, the group said.
Provincial minister Father David Gaa said that bankruptcy would allow the organization to equitably compensate survivors of abuse, even if “no apology or any amount of financial compensation can reverse the harm.”
“I am deeply saddened by the sinful acts committed and the damage caused to abuse survivors — then only children — who put their trust in friars,” Gaa said in a statement.
The Franciscan order is known for operating the St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, providing food, clothing and addiction counseling to those in need. The work of the St. Anthony Foundation, and the organization’s other operations in California and Arizona, will not be impacted by the bankruptcy filing, a spokesman said.
The Franciscan organization has between $1 million and $10 million in assets, and between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities, according to a petition filed Dec. 31 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oakland, California.
The case is: In re: Franciscan Friars of California Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, No. 23-41723
— The most important stories from the Vatican in 2023
By CLAIRE GIANGRAVÉ
In a year that began with the funeral of his predecessor, Pope Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his own election in March, stepped up his reforms of the Catholic Church, and by year’s end he could point to a series of wins in shoring up Vatican finances, reducing corruption and enacting his plan for a more welcoming and inclusive church. He had also marginalised several outspoken critics.
But 2023 also exposed the weaknesses of this pontificate. Under Francis, the church continued to stumble in dealing with sexual abuse, extending the perception the hierarchy still doesn’t take the problem seriously. Despite concerted diplomatic efforts, the Pope failed to project real influence over foreign affairs, especially in the major conflicts in Ukraine and the Mideast. His age and his medical scares, meanwhile, had many Vatican players considering a church under Francis’ own successor.
Pope Francis presides over a Mass for the closing of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on 29th October, 2023.
But as the following top stories of 2023 from the Vatican show, Francis steadily made news by pushing his vision for the church despite the challenges.
1. Pope Francis strengthens his position inside the Vatican and beyond
For much the first 10 years as pontiff, Pope Francis lived in the shadow of the previous pope living inside the Vatican. With Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral on 5th January, Francis was finally able to move past the Benedict era, cementing his legacy while eliminating opposition in and outside the Vatican.
In June, Francis sent a delegation to investigate the diocese of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a vocal opponent of Francis’ pontificate, and in August rapped his American conservative critics for, he said, replacing faith with ideology. By November, Strickland had been fired from his post, and soon after the Pope removed Cardinal Raymond Burke, who had replaced Pell as the de facto leader of conservative opposition, from his Vatican apartment and took away the cardinal’s stipend.
The Pope also solidified his position at the Vatican by appointing a close friend and fellow Argentine, Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, to lead the Discastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. Francis later made Fernández a cardinal, along with 20 others. The Pope has now appointed a majority of the cardinals who will elect his successor.
Pope Francis adjusts his skullcap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on 15th March, 2023. Francis passed his 10th anniversary as Pope on 13th March.
2. The Synod on Synodality shows a new way to govern the church The month of October saw a major summit of Catholic bishops and lay individuals at the Vatican, called the Synod on Synodality, convened by Francis to address issues raised by worldwide listening sessions in local dioceses. The gathering considered questions ranging from LGBTQ inclusion to female ordination to church structure.
Ahead of the summit, in April, Francis made an unprecedented decision to allow lay Catholics, including women, to have a vote at the synod. Its lively discussions were for the most part kept under wraps at the Pope’s urging, but reports showed that the most time was spent on the roles of women and laypeople.
The final document emerging from the synod did not usher in the sweeping changes some had hoped for – and others had feared. Instead, it suggested that synodality, a way of governing the church through dialogue, was the church’s future. While the Catholic world waits for the second part of the summit, scheduled to take place next fall, it’s up to the Pope to discern and guide its impact.
3. The church moves toward LGBTQ acceptance
Beginning with his famous 2013 response to a question about LGBTQ Catholics – “Who am I to judge?” – Francis has signaled a new acceptance despite church teaching about homosexuality. In an interview with The Associated Press in January, the Pope stated that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”
A June document summarising the discussions at the synod called for the “radical inclusion” of LGBTQ Catholics, underscoring the importance of this topic to many Catholics around the world. Francis had invited Rev James Martin, a prominent advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, to take part in the gathering.
Russian Orthodox clergy and Patriarch Kirill, right side of table, meet with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Roman Catholic delegates at the patriarchal residence in Danilov Monastery, in Moscow, on 29th June, 2023.
But Francis was harshly criticised for praising the imperial past of the tsars while speaking to Russian students in August, and his refusal to assign blame to one side or the other in the Ukraine war caused backlash and frustrated his diplomatic outreach. Meanwhile, his use of the term “terrorism” to describe the activities of both Israel and Hamas in the Middle East was met with anger and dismay by some.
5. The shadow of sexual abuse in the Rupnick case
Rev Marko Rupnik, a Jesuit artist who was expelled from his congregation after credible accusations of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse of adult women,deeply divided the church and underlined the challenges that remain in the institution’s handling of sex abuse cases. The Diocese of Rome, led by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, had to issue a formal apology for allowing the priest to remain active in his parish despite the accusations against him.
6. A historic sentence for a historic Vatican trial
Closing the year, a Vatican tribunal sentenced nine individuals – including Cardinal Angelo Becciu – with punishments ranging from fines to significant prison time for their various roles in a controversial real estate deal that had cost the Vatican millions. It was the first time a cardinal was tried and convicted of financial crimes in the church, signaling a new era in the Vatican’s financial reform efforts.
Though many of the accused will appeal, the sentences, after a trial that lasted almost three years, were interpreted as a decisive win for the Pope and his reforms of the Vatican’s notoriously corrupt and mismanaged finances.