Spanish Catholic bishops find evidence of 728 sexual abusers, 927 victims since 1945

Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

By CiarÁn Giles

Spain’s Catholic bishops’ conference says it has found evidence of 728 sexual abusers within the church since 1945, through the testimony of 927 victims, in its first public report on the issue.

The church said 83% of the victims and 99% of the abusers were male and that more than 60% of the offenders were dead.

In a report presented Thursday, more than 50% of offenders were said to be priests. The rest were other church officials.

The church said that most cases occurred in the last century, 75% of them before 1990.

The conference said the collection of testimonies was continuing and the figure would be updated periodically. The data was collected in some 200 offices for the protection of minors, set up by the church around Spain in 2019.

Leading daily El País, which has been reporting constantly on cases in Spain and abroad, said Friday the real figures of abuses within the church were likely to be much higher, as the church report only referred to cases recorded since 2019 and did not include the number of cases the church was aware of before that date.

A Madrid-based law firm that is conducting a parallel inquiry ordered for the Spanish Episcopal Conference has told the media that the number of victims is likely to be in the thousands. The firm has yet to produce its results.

Up until very recently, the Spanish church has been reluctant to carry out investigations or release information on sexual abuse cases. Spain’s state prosecutor earlier this year complained that the bishops were withholding information. The bishops denied this.

“Members of this our church have hurt other members of the church or society,” said César García Magán, the Spanish Episcopal Conference secretary general, said at the presentation. ”And for this reason, we feel pain and shame.”

But he said that this would be meaningless if it did not lead to changes in the ways children were protected and offenders sidelined. He said the church was also committed to sharing its findings and must use the lessons learnt to ensure “sexual abuses do not occur again in the heart of the church.”

The bishops´ report said the abuses occurred mostly in schools, seminaries, and parish buildings.

Spain’s parliament voted in 2022 to open the first official investigation led by the country’s ombudsman into the extent of sexual abuse committed by priests and church officials after El País published allegations of abuse involving more than 1,200 victims.

Earlier this year, the ombudsman said his independent commission had collected testimonies from 445 victims, but the probe was continuing.

Only a handful of countries have had government-initiated or parliamentary inquiries into abuse like Spain’s.

The most extensive took place in Australia. In 2017, it found that 7% of Catholic priests were accused of abusing minors between 1980 and 2010. Judge-led investigations in Ireland from 2005 impacted the Catholic Church’s once-dominant influence in society and politics.

And in France, an independent inquiry estimated in 2021 that some 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy or other Catholic-affiliated lay employees from 1950-2020.

In neighboring Portugal, an expert panel said this year that more than 4,800 individuals may have been victims of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Complete Article HERE!

Documents reveal growing criticisms, concerns about Knoxville bishop’s leadership

— A former diocese organist filed suit in February 2022. Some laity and priests are unhappy with Stika’s staunch defense of a seminarian accused of rape.

Bishop Richard F. Stika waves to the congregation during his during his episcopal ordination March 19 at the Knoxville, Tenn., convention center. Bishop Stika, a St. Louis native, is the third bishop to lead the Diocese of Knoxville, which was founded in 1988 and is home to almost 60,000 Catholics.. At left is principal consecrator Cardinal Justin F. Rigali of Philadelphia.

By John North

Knoxville Catholic Bishop Richard Stika is facing increasing criticism and scrutiny over his leadership, including how he’s handled accusations that a former seminarian raped a church musician, newly gathered documents show.

The musician is suing Stika and the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville in Knox County Circuit Court. Judge Jerome Melson is expected to hold a hearing Friday for the musician’s lawyers and diocesan attorneys.

The hearing comes as local and national attention grows about the diocese, the boundaries of which stretch from Chattanooga to Knoxville and on up to the Tri Cities. An online publication called The Pillar has published numerous stories critical of Stika’s leadership since 2021.

Complaints against him gained even greater prominence May 11 when the National Catholic Reporter published a lengthy story about the bishop and his leadership.

WBIR previously has reported about the ex-organist’s February 2022 lawsuit as well as a federal complaint filed in November 2022 against the diocese by a Honduran woman who alleges a Gatlinburg priest sexually battered her.

In recent weeks, however, numerous internal documents including emails, reports and handwritten notes from 2021 and 2022 have surfaced as the organist’s lawsuit slowly advances through the legal system.

They show priests in the Knoxville Diocese expressing increasing complaints about Stika, 65, and his handling of a rape allegation made against the Polish seminarian. They’ve been baffled by his persistent support of the seminarian, records show.

Bishop Stika at a past ceremony at the cathedral.

Many of the documents appear to serve as the basis or source of allegations in the musician’s February 2022 lawsuit, which alleges defamation and negligence. The organist is suing the diocese and Stika; he is not suing the seminarian.

Records and two secret audio recordings from 2021 also show Stika steadfastly defending the now former seminarian and at times scolding and criticizing those who have questioned him.

“Bishop Stika has a history of intimidating people he does not agree with or like,” one priest wrote in October 2019 as tensions mounted within the diocese.

“We humbly ask for appointment of a new Bishop who we can believe in, put our faith in, and who can appropriately guide us in our Catholic lives,” a 2022 petition on from a lay member and Chattanooga area attorney states.

Appointed in 2009 to come to Knoxville, the bishop previously has told priests that he is staying right where he is.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” Stika told the men during a meeting May 25, 2021, after controversy over the Polish seminarian arose. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

In May, three priests in the diocese also met with WBIR to express their concerns.

The diocese said it could not comment because of the ongoing litigation.


The organist worked in the diocese from 2015 until August 2019.

WBIR is not naming him because he alleges he is a rape victim. WBIR is not  naming the former seminarian — whose name is widely known within the diocese — because he has not been charged with a crime.

In January 2019, the freshly arrived seminarian struck up a friendship with the organist.

According to the lawsuit, the musician alleges the seminarian sought a sexual relationship. He states in his complaint that he was “pressured into brief sexual touching and oral sex on isolated occasions. Plaintiff did not feel particularly attracted to (the seminarian) and was not interested in a sexual relationship with someone so forceful and aggressive.”

The Polish man would at times forcefully kiss the organist, the lawsuit alleges.

The organist is seven years older than the seminarian, Stika has said.

The seminarian wanted to keep his physical relationship with the musician secret, according to the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the musician kept up his association with the Polish man “because he felt bad for him as a gay seminarian.” He also alleges he felt obliged to stay on good terms because the seminarian had a close relationship with Stika, who had taken him in. Stika has said the seminarian came recommended by the late Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary in Poland.

Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in West Knoxville.

On Feb. 5, 2019, the organist alleges, the seminarian came on to him aggressively, pinned him down and raped him to the point that he suffered bleeding.

The musician alleges he went to bed that night “in shock and pain” and that the seminarian spent the night with him in bed.

Five days later, the seminarian left a Catholic prayer book for the organist with an inscription of well wishes from Stika. Four days later — Valentine’s Day — the Polish man handed him a card and a bottle of Champagne. In the card he expressed thanks for his friendship and added, “And for what was wrong — I apologize with all my heart.”

According to the lawsuit, the musician went to the Knoxville Police Department on Feb. 25, 2019, to report the rape. But the lawsuit states that a KPD officer told him if he pursued the criminal case the church would “come after” him and he’d lose his job. It would be his word against the seminarian’s, the plaintiff says he was told.

No rape charge was ever filed.

The musician alleges he tried to avoid the seminarian but the Polish man “stalked” him.

On March 29, 2019, some six weeks after the alleged rape, the two young men had dinner at a restaurant with Stika. Because of Stika’s position as bishop, the musician alleges he felt he had little choice but to go along with the dinner.

A photo — submitted with the lawsuit — was taken of the trio, with Stika on one side of the table and the two younger men on the other.

“At the end of dinner, Stika asked (the organist) if he ever had any trouble with his co-workers,” the lawsuit states. “(The musician) felt constrained to answer no, given (the Polish man’s) relationship with the bishop.”

In August 2019, six months after the alleged rape, the musician moved on to Atlanta. He filed his lawsuit 18 months later in Knox County.

During 2019, the seminarian lived at Stika’s West Knox County house along with retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, a longtime mentor of Stika’s. The seminarian drove the older men around as needed.  Stika would later say — at a 2021 meeting secretly recorded in Knoxville — that he’d lost sight in one eye and didn’t trust his driving.

The seminarian also traveled with Stika and Rigali, including joining them on a trip to the Vatican.

In the fall of 2019, the seminarian went off to Saint Meinrad seminary school in Indiana. By early 2021, however, he’d been dismissed, records reviewed by WBIR show.

Some of his fellow seminarians in Indiana reported that he’d touched them inappropriately or acted inappropriately around them.

Letter to the bishop from Saint Meinrad on March 1, 2021, about the seminarian.

In one encounter in January 2021, he tickled and grappled with a student who was visiting Tennessee from out of town. He also sent unwanted and invasive Snapchat messages about his penis, documents reviewed by WBIR state.

Another seminarian reported that while at Saint Meinrad in February 2021, he caught the Polish man spying into his room from across the courtyard.

The seminarian was dismissed from the Indiana school that month, an email shows.

On March 1, 2019, Meinrad President-Rector the Very Rev. Denis Robinson wrote Stika that the school had decided to dismiss the Polish man because of what his fellow students had experienced and also because of online accusations that had emerged about the 2019 alleged rape.

“While we have no way of adjudicating the reliability of this case, its presence on the internet is very damaging to a seminarian,” Robinson wrote. “Once again, many of the interactions we have had with (the Polish man) in the past have been quite positive, but I do believe that the issues raised by the seminarians need to be addressed and corrected before (the Polish man) can re-enter seminary formation.”

In two years’ time, Robinson wrote, they’d be willing to review his case “if you (Stika) see that as a proper move.”


Emails, notes, reports and the two audio recordings from spring 2021 show rising skepticism, even anger, about the way the bishop handled the Polish seminarian.

Reports about the man’s conduct with the organist began circulating in the diocese in early 2021.

On Feb. 26, 2021, after dismissal from Saint Meinrad, Stika sent a note to priests in the diocese stating that the seminarian had entered a “two-year period of discernment,” meaning he would be reflecting on what God wanted him to do. He wrote that the man would be helping him in the Chancery in Knoxville and helping the octogenarian Cardinal Rigali.

His note offended some priests in light of allegations about the seminarian’s aggressive, sexual conduct, documents show. Priests complained Stika was giving him special treatment.

A formal investigation was needed, one priest wrote. Furthermore, he wrote, Stika needed to be held accountable.

A March 11, 2021, email from the bishop to an attorney and senior members of the diocese stated, “I have informed the individual of his need to return home. I am working with his former school on when this would be necessary.”

Any assumption that the Polish man would be sent home to Eastern Europe, however, proved false. Instead, Stika sought to have him go off to Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo., Stika’s alma mater and hometown, to enroll at the diocese’s expense, a letter shows.

Carleton E. “Butch” Bryant, a church member and former staff attorney for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, notified Stika and members of the diocese’s internal Diocesan Review Board that he was calling a March 25 meeting to consider whether they should formally investigate allegations against the seminarian, records show.

The board is a “confidential consultative body” to the bishop, according to the diocese.

An investigation was indeed launched, with George Prosser, a former Tennessee Valley Authority inspector general, tapped to do the investigative footwork.

Stika, however, as he would later say at a May 2021 meeting with area priests, didn’t like the way Prosser conducted the inquiry. He asked questions that confused and upset people in the diocese, he said. Prosser was a nice man, he’d say later, a 75-year-old neighbor, but he wasn’t the man to handle the investigation.

He removed Prosser.

Diocesan Review Board member Christopher J. Manning took Prosser’s place.

Note to board about Manning report.

Manning’s report shows he interviewed the Polish seminarian April 16, 2021. He did not talk with the former church organist or the students in Indiana at Saint Meinrad.

Three days before, however, Bryant sent an email to members of the Diocesan Review Board stating that Stika had informed him the investigation “is closed.” They could all talk about it at an upcoming meeting later that month, Bryant’s email states.

After his interview, Manning prepared an April 16, 2021, report for Stika, Bryant and Vicar-General Doug Owens.

In his interview, the seminarian said he’d been friends only with the musician and that there’d not been mutual sex. He said the musician told him he was gay, the report states.

He alleged that the musician initiated sex with him during a trip in late January or early February to Atlanta, Manning’s report states. The seminarian said he resisted the overture. The seminarian told Manning they shared a king-size bed in Atlanta and that the musician tried to perform oral sex in the middle of the night.

The pair traveled to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in May 2019, according to Manning’s report. While in their Las Vegas hotel, the seminarian claimed he saw the musician and a young Hispanic man kiss and have sex.

In June 2019, according to his conversation with Manning, the seminarian said the musician told him he was moving to Atlanta. They had dinner and the musician gave him a shirt as a gift, the report states.

The seminarian denied any inappropriate conduct with the men at the Indiana seminary school, the report states.

“There is no indication that Mr. ——— was untruthful during this interview. He did not hesitate (sic) any of the questions and provided specific details when those were requested,” Manning wrote.

Bryant sent the Manning report to the Diocesan Review Board on April 28 ahead of that night’s meeting. Emails show some in the diocese strongly disagreed with the conclusion of the investigation and lack of action against the seminarian. It was one-sided, they said.

Interior of the Knoxville cathedral, the construction of which the bishop considers to be among his most important contributions to the diocese.

One priest wrote that Stika had impeded the investigation. He wrote that the bishop had a history of “intimidating” people who disagree with him, records show. The bishop had even threatened to resign because he thought it wrong to send the seminarian back to Poland, according to the priest.

In a letter dated April 12, 2021, four days before Manning talked with the Polish seminarian, Stika wrote “To Whom It May Concern” at Saint Louis University that the Knoxville Diocese would cover room, board and tuition for the seminarian in the amount of $48,258 for the fall 2021 school year.

“(He) will not in any way be a burden to the United States of America or the State of Tennessee,” the letter stated.


Stika addressed priests in the diocese in meetings in May and June 2021. A priest recorded the gatherings, and they’ve now become part of the allegations contained in the organist’s lawsuit.

The meetings came soon after another critical online piece by The Pillar.

The bishop told the men he regretted having invited The Pillar to come to Knoxville and see the work of the diocese for itself. He warned against speaking to the media because the priests wouldn’t be able to control that outcome.

“He (The Pillar writer) doesn’t care about us. He just wants to sell subscriptions,” Stika said in the June 8, 2021, meeting. “He moves on, and here we are.”

He told the men he believed the musician was the sexual aggressor, not the Polish seminarian.

Draft of letter to Chrisophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, from 2021.

By September, some priests in the diocese had begun putting together a letter seeking action by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. They expressed their reservations about Stika’s leadership. The nuncio acts as a liaison and formal representative of the pope.

Multiple priests signed the letter sent to Pierre. They did not get a response, according to three priests who asked that their names be withheld to avoid possible retaliation.

A Vatican investigative team did end up traveling to Knoxville and interviewing various people, according to the priests and several Catholic media reports. But there’s been no obvious action.

In addition, records show, respected priest Father Brent Shelton quietly drafted an email to Stika, circulated among various priests, that questioned him about the church investigation and what Stika was doing to serve the diocese. Shelton ended up leaving the diocese this spring after Stika proposed moving him from his Oak Ridge church.

The “drip, drip, drip” of new allegations was worrisome, the draft email circulated among some priests states.

“We are losing parishioners; parents are questioning whether to entrust their children to our schools and we are given little guidance into how this matter is progressing and when and how it will end,” the email stated.

In October 2022, Chattanooga area attorney and lay diocese member Theresa Critchfield also prepared a letter on her TLC Law stationery about Stika’s leadership. It was uploaded as a petition to

The Oct. 3, 2022, letter was directed to Pierre in Washington as well as Jose Horacio Gomez Velasco, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to the Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, the archbishop of Louisville, which presides over the Knoxville Diocese.

According to the letter, members of the Chattanooga Deanery had lost faith in Stika “as our shepherd.” The letter cited among other things church finances and Stika’s handling of the seminarian’s time in Knoxville.

Letter from Chattanooga Deanery lay member, posted on


There’s been little movement with the organist’s lawsuit since it was filed in February 2022.

Judge Melson has granted the defendants’ request that the organist amend his lawsuit to identify himself by name rather than as “John Doe”. The amended complaint was filed in January.

The former seminarian moved to St. Louis and is believed to still live there, according to the three priests.

On May 11, the independent National Catholic Reporter, which has reported for decades on the church, published a lengthy story that included an interview with Stika, Critchfield and unnamed priests, among others. The story detailed multiple concerns among parishioners and priests about the state of the diocese. It reported some in Knoxville feel “demoralized” by the ongoing turmoil.

Stika told the newspaper he didn’t practice retribution. He said he also saw great progress across the diocese, which has some 70 priests and more than 70,000 parishioners.

“I see growth, I see financial stability, I see vocations and I see happiness,” he told the paper.

The organist’s lawsuit is the second to challenge Stika’s leadership in recent years. A complaint filed in November 2022 on behalf of a Honduran woman alleges she was sexually battered by priest Antony Punnackal in 2020 inside a Gatlinburg church.

The federal lawsuit names the diocese, Punnackal and the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate as defendants.

The complaint also alleges the diocese tried to discredit her and to silence her when she began making accusations against Punnackal. The complaint is on hold while a criminal case against the priest proceeds in Sevier County Circuit Court.

Punnackal was removed from active ministry in January 2022, according to the diocese. He appeared earlier this month at a court hearing in his case in Sevier County.

The sexual battery trial is set for September.

Antony Punnackal and his attorney, Travis McCarter in May 2023.

Complete Article HERE!

Stay, leave or convert

— Some Catholics at a crossroads about religion amid sexual abuse allegations against priests

By Jasmine Vaughn-Hall

Allison Dietz loves to hear the children laughing and enjoying the playground at St. Mark School in Catonsville, within an earshot of her house. But these days, after the release of a report that detailed decades of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the laughing triggers somber thoughts.

“You can’t help but think about all the children who were not protected,” she said.

Dietz, a Catholic since birth, said the release of the attorney general’s report was the final straw for her devotion to the Catholic faith. It was a “kick in the gut” to find out that a dozen sexually abusive priests had served at St. Mark Parish next to the school and playground, she said. She no longer identifies with the religion or supports the church. She’s separated herself from everything she’s known in religion to trek her own path and spiritual journey.

St. Mark School, in Catonsville, Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

Many Catholics seem to be at a crossroads following the release of the report in Maryland and allegations of other such abuse across the country. People are leaving organized religion completely, converting, or continuing to observe only certain parts of their Catholic heritage. Others are sticking with it, choosing to blame the people, not the religion.

This is happening as people are already generally moving away from organized religion.

In the U.S., roughly three out of 10 adults are unaffiliated with religion, according to the Pew Research Center. Since the research center started measuring religious identity in 2007, the percentage of adults who said they were atheist, agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated grew from 16% to 29%.

At least 63% of the nation’s population identified as Christian, which includes Catholics and Orthodox. In a separate study, people who did not identify with a religion said they didn’t believe in the business-like and hierarchical nature of religious groups and question religious teachings. Some also mentioned the clergy sex abuse scandal as a deterrent from organized religion and opposition to social and political stances of churches.

Dietz said separating herself from Catholicism hasn’t come easily. She’s having a tough time coming to grips with disowning the teachings and beliefs that have been ingrained in her since she was a child. And, how at one time, she accepted many of those teachings and beliefs as true.

Marlene Winell, a licensed psychologist in the Boston area who works with those recovering from religious harm, said she thinks the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is “far and above” any other scandal in religious groups.

“It’s shocking, so people will sometimes get disgusted with the church and not want to be a part of it. The hypocrisy is something people don’t like very much,” said Winell, who wrote the book, “Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion.”

Mary Joseph “Mary Jo” Rogers once loved seeing the children line up to donate toys for less fortunate families at the Christmas Eve Mass at her church. Catholicism is all she’s known, and she’s learning that you can’t fully separate from it. She came from a very devoted Catholic family. She even jokes that every good Catholic family needs a “Joseph” and a “Mary” and she got both names. When she was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for her parents to have dinner and sip Southern Comfort Manhattans with a monsignor who was a longtime family friend. She went to Catholic school from first grade to high school and even a few years of college.

She was in the choir and hosted Bible discussions at her house. She enjoyed Sunday Mass and the elaborate services for Easter and other holidays. She still gets mail from St. Ursula, a church she attended for over 25 years, filled with color-coded envelopes to support the church with a request to “try to give 5% to God.”

But today, she can’t walk into a church. She’s afraid she might start yelling at a priest.

“How can I go in and have someone like that guide my spiritual well-being? They’re only there to protect themselves and their money. There’s no such thing as a poor priest,” she said.

Mary Jo Rogers, pictured in her home on May 23, 2023, with her religious artifacts, many of which are family heirlooms. Rogers says she feels betrayed by the church and can’t go back. She still has her Catholic faith, but it is separate from the institution.

Rogers said she started to feel a shift in her thoughts about the church after watching the Netflix docuseries, “The Keepers,” which explored the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse. Rogers said it’s not only the abuse that’s unsettling for her, but the pervasive cover-up involved. The initial Maryland report released in April had redacted names throughout, several of which The Baltimore Banner has since identified through independent reporting.

As a mother, grandmother and a former police officer, Rogers said, she feels betrayed and duped. She has no plans for it to happen again.

She misses her church, the traditions and being a part of a place to practice her faith. She still keeps a brown scapular, a small statue of Blessed Mary and a baby-blue beaded rosary by her bedside for protection. Catholicism isn’t something she can just throw away, she said.

“I lost a large part of my life, my history,” she said, reflecting on how her involvement with the church dwindled.

Rogers and her daughter are considering converting to the Episcopal Church, she said. It was her mother’s denomination before she converted to Catholicism and a denomination in which women can reach the priesthood.

Mary Jo Rogers, pictured in her home on May 23, 2023, with her religious artifacts, many of which are family heirlooms.

Leaving or sticking with Catholicism sparked complex conversations and debates on Facebook recently. Betrayal. Guilt. Loss. Hope. The emotions people said they felt over the issue were mixed. Some say they are still cultural Catholics, drawing a deep line in the sand between their faith and the institution. Many cannot turn a blind eye to how the sexual abuse cases were handled. Many high-level officials in the church are accused of covering up abuse and moving accused priests from parish to parish.

People also shared that they left even before major details were released about the sexual abuse because they didn’t agree with the church’s stance on abortion, the LGBTQ community and the way women are treated. The report just reaffirmed their decisions.

But some say it is unfair that the whole church has been tainted by the scandal. They are disappointed that the sexual abuse is taking over the identity of the religion, especially since there’s still charitable work being done by good people who are Catholic.

Ann Zelenka doesn’t deny that the church has a lot of work to do. She is still an active Catholic, going to Sunday Mass with her husband. Her faith, she said, transcends the institution and is at the core of who she is.

“If they took the institution away tomorrow and there was no public Mass, I would still do something to honor the day,” she said.

Ann Zelenka keeps a St. Christopher rosary bracelet with her often after a friend gave it to her when she was going through a tough time. Catholicism is a decision-making tool for her life, she said.
Ann Zelenka keeps a St. Christopher rosary bracelet with her after a friend gave it to her when she was going through a tough time. Catholicism is a decision-making tool for her life, she said.

As someone who was homeschooled most of her life, she grew up in a niche Catholic community. The Communions, going to Mass, the sacraments and feast days were all special to her growing up. However, she doesn’t think the institution and its followers can move forward without acknowledging the damage and harm that’s been done. Certain “figureheads” have gotten in the way, she said, of practicing the religion “authentically.”

Zelenka said an apology isn’t enough, that the church needs to rectify and mandate change.

“For anyone in the Baltimore community that feels alone and wants to remain Catholic, there is hope beyond this travesty that has existed, but we must fully acknowledge the travesty to move forward,” she said.

Dietz said she feels a sense of freedom since she decided to leave Catholicism. It’s a religion she said is built on fear where “you’re made to feel you can go to hell for even the smallest transgressions.”

Initially, she thought she would convert to another denomination, but she’s content figuring out what she wants to do day by day without the pressure of someone telling her how to connect with God, she said. It’s an opportunity she never saw for herself.

“Removing the veil of shame, fear and guilt that the Catholic doctrine so often espouses has been peace-giving for me,” Dietz said.

Catholics, she added, are taught to be afraid of going to hell. For those considering parting ways with Catholicism, it’s not so much about leaving Jesus than it is leaving the church because “salvation in the Catholic Church is through the church,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church in California grapples with over 3,000 lawsuits alleging abuse

— Advocates have been stunned by the number of cases that surfaced during this revival window

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, headquarters for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, seen in 2013.

By Alejandro Molina

At least a third of the 12 Roman Catholic dioceses in California have either filed for bankruptcy or are contemplating doing so to deal with an influx of lawsuits filed by survivors of childhood sexual abuse after a state law opened a three-year window in which cases were exempted from age limits.

More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church in California under a 2019 state law that also extended the statute of limitations to allow all alleged victims of sexual abuse to sue up to the age of 40.

Advocates have been stunned by the number of cases that surfaced during the window, which closed at the end of December.

So far, two dioceses have declared bankruptcy.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa, which is facing more than 200 lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy in mid-March. In its bankruptcy petition, it claimed assets valued between $10 million and $50 million. It estimated its liabilities in the same dollar range.

The Diocese of Oakland, grappling with about 330 sexual abuse lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy in early May. It claimed assets valued between $100 million and $500 million with estimated liabilities in the same dollar range, according to its bankruptcy petition.

Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber, in a letter, said, “worship sites” will close, and the diocese will have to “re-imagine” how other locations are used.

“I ask for your commitment to work with me and our pastors in the upcoming months as we determine how best to address the outcome of the bankruptcy process and how to ‘right-size’ our parishes to serve the faithful and all who come to us seeking Christ’s tender love,” Barber said.

The Diocese of San Diego made the decision earlier this month to file for bankruptcy sometime this fall, said Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the diocese.

Cardinal Robert McElroy, bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, announced in early February the possibility of bankruptcy as the diocese faces “staggering” legal costs in dealing with some 400 lawsuits alleging priests and others sexually abused children. Most of the alleged abuse cited in the suits took place 50 to 75 years ago, and the earliest claim dates back to 1945.

Most of the diocese’s assets, McElroy said in a letter, were used to settle previous allegations, ending in a $198 million payout in 2007. Eckery has predicted the cost of settling the outstanding cases against the diocese could amount to $550 million.

The dioceses in Stockton, Fresno and San Jose did not answer a query from Religion News Service to learn of their plans to deal with the lawsuits. The Diocese of Orange said that it had not yet finalized the number of pending lawsuits and that it was not considering bankruptcy. Deacon David Ford with the Diocese of Monterey said the diocese prefers “not to make a statement right now,” regarding any potential plans for bankruptcy.

Bishop Jaime Soto, in a statement in late February, said bankruptcy could be an option for the Diocese of Sacramento as it grapples with more than 200 lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse.

“To learn of this staggering number of claims is truly heartbreaking,” Soto wrote. “These claims represent real people whose lives have been damaged by the sins of individuals whom they had been taught to trust.

“… Given the number of claims that have been presented … resolving them may overwhelm the diocese’s finances available to satisfy such claims,” he wrote. “This financial challenge is unlike anything we have faced before.”

Rick Simons, a lawyer serving as the plaintiffs’ liaison for cases in Northern California, says the dioceses are addressing these cases “as they always have, by avoidance.”

Simons said a total of about 1,600 cases have been filed against the Catholic Church in Northern California. These cases — which are being coordinated through Alameda County Superior Court — span dioceses in Fresno, Monterey, San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Oakland.

“They say sympathetic words of responsibility and empathy for the victims in their public statements, and all their actions are exactly the opposite,” Simons said of the bishops.

According to Simons, about 500 cases are stayed by the Santa Rosa and Oakland bankruptcy proceedings.

“I’m trying to get cases set for trial, both because trials provide an incentive for settlement and because trials establish values that can be used for settlement of other cases, and of course, the defense doesn’t want to have any trials,” Simons said.

The national Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is preparing a letter to Attorney General Rob Bonta requesting that he issue a report based on information gathered in the lawsuits as well as from when the dioceses were subpoenaed in 2019. The subpoenas were issued to review how the state’s Catholic dioceses handled sex abuse allegations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We don’t think any of these entities are or will be made insolvent by any awards that are granted to survivors,” said Dan McNevin with SNAP.

McNevin said it’s a “double bottom line” when dioceses declare bankruptcy because it freezes the discovery phase of lawsuits “and they also create this impression that they’re broke and that they can’t afford to pay victims what they’re owed.”

“They want to avoid a jury,” McNevin said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the most populous Catholic diocese in the country, with some 4 million Catholics, is not planning to file for bankruptcy, despite grappling with at least 1,100 lawsuits. The majority of these cases involve alleged abuse that occurred in the 1970s and earlier, the archdiocese said, and the accused clergy have died or are no longer in ministry.

How the Los Angeles archdiocese plans to avoid bankruptcy with so many cases pending is not clear. In a statement, the archdiocese said it has been “providing, on an ongoing basis, pastoral financial settlements directly to victim-survivors, regardless of the openings of the statute and when the abuse may have occurred.”

In a statement to RNS in early April, the Archdiocese of San Francisco said it was still in the process of evaluating more than 400 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy, volunteers or archdiocesan staff. These cases date back more than 50 years, and a vast majority of the accused are dead, the archdiocese said.

In addition, a large number of the allegations against the San Francisco archdiocese include names of alleged abusers who do not appear to be priests assigned to the archdiocese, it said.

John Andrews, spokesman of the Diocese of San Bernardino, said there are no current plans to file for bankruptcy.

San Bernardino Bishop Alberto Rojas said in a statement in March that the diocese is evaluating “different legal and financial options” to resolve more than 130 sexual abuse lawsuits. A vast majority of the lawsuits involve abuses alleged to have occurred more than 30 years ago, he said.

The diocese, Rojas said, has provided victims with more than $25 million in settlement monies since 2003. Those settlements were paid through a combination of savings and insurance coverage with “little or no impact to our core ministries.” Now, Rojas said, “we must acknowledge the significant financial impact they would have on our local church.”

McNevin, of SNAP, credits the number of outstanding sex abuse claims to “delayed disclosure,” a phenomenon common to survivors of child sex abuse in which individuals remain silent for years before coming forward.

A 2020 report by Child USA found the average age at the time of reporting child sex abuse to be about 52 years. “The average age of abuse is somewhere in the 11- to 14-year-old range, so it’s a 40-year lag,” McNevin said.

McNevin also attributes the flood of cases to the lower stigma associated with being an abuse survivor. “There’s been a lot more awareness … So people are not embarrassed to say it happened to them. They no longer fear being called a liar,” McNevin said.

As SNAP drafts a letter to Bonta, McNevin said they are calling on the attorney general to “examine these bankruptcies closely.”

Just as in New York, where the Diocese of Buffalo has submitted to government oversight, McNevin said there’s an opportunity for Bonta “to really impose an appropriate, safe structure that will keep exposure at a maximum.

“What will happen will be a secular imposition of structure onto the Catholic Church that will force it to be safer,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Church accused of adding to trauma of survivor by trying to thwart case involving paedophile priest

— Catholic church’s claim he could not have been an altar boy because he was baptised Anglican proved to be incorrect but delayed case for a year, in a legal move being heavily criticised

The accusation adds to a litany of complaints about the legal tactics being utilised by the Catholic church in Australia for abuse cases.


The Catholic church has been accused of causing added trauma to a survivor after it tried to thwart his case involving a notorious jailed paedophile priest by claiming he could not have been an altar boy because he was baptised in the Anglican church, a move that delayed the case for a year.

The accusation adds to a litany of complaints about the legal tactics being employed by the church in abuse cases, including its repeated attempts to permanently halt cases where paedophile clergy have died, a practice first revealed in an investigation by Guardian Australia.

In late 2020, a survivor who wishes to remain anonymous, sued the Maitland-Newcastle diocese for alleged abuse at the hands of the notorious pedophile Father Vincent Ryan, a priest who, before his recent death, served more than two decades in jail for abusing dozens of children.

The survivor alleged he was abused by Ryan at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cessnock in the early 1990s, when he worked as an altar server for Sunday mass.

His lawyers, Slater and Gordon, say the church took an aggressive approach to the claim, denying in court documents the abuse could have occurred because the plaintiff had been baptised in the Anglican church. The church alleged that this meant he could not have been an altar server at St Joseph’s and therefore could not have been abused.

The Slater and Gordon New South Wales abuse lawyer Jonathan Georgaklis said the suggestion delayed the claim by more than a year, as the survivor gathered statements from family and former acquaintances, some of whom he hadn’t spoke with in more than a decade, to prove he had served as an altar boy at St Joseph’s.

The process caused added trauma and significant legal expense. When he presented the fresh statements showing his service at the church, the church settled.

“It’s incredibly disappointing for abuse survivors to be treated so poorly by the institution that failed to protect them in the first place and is vicariously liable for the significant impact the abuse they suffered [had] on their lives,” Georgaklis said. “Abuse victims deserve better.”

The diocese said in response that it “regrets any further distress caused to survivors during proceedings”.

In a statement, it said the case was far more complex than simply a question about the religion of the survivor. The diocese said Slater and Gordon was focusing on one aspect of the case.

“[Slater and Gordon’s statement] does not acknowledge the evidence the diocese had from people who were involved in the church and the parish at that time the alleged abuse occurred that raised serious questions as to what actually happened,” the diocese said.

“The doubts that arose in investigating the claim were far broader than a simple question of the religion of the individual involved.”

The diocese said Slater and Gordon produced “credible, independent witness statements in November 2022”. That allowed the diocese to have sufficient certainty that the claim should be settled.

“Some legal firms present strong, well-prepared claims from the beginning that may allow the diocese to resolve the claim sooner than when there is enduring uncertainty.”

Guardian Australia has revealed a shift in the tactics of institutions in abuse cases – primarily Catholic orders operating in NSW – over the past 12 months.

Interviews with more than a dozen plaintiff lawyers and survivors, as well as an analysis of court records in 13 cases, reveal the church is routinely seeking permanent stays where clergy have died, arguing they can no longer receive a fair trial.

Permanent stays, where granted, halt survivors’ claims in their tracks and prevent them from reaching trial.

The church is also using the threat of permanent stays in such cases to low-ball survivors in settlement negotiations, abuse lawyers say.

The tactics, which will be the subject of a Four Corners episode on Monday night, has caused outrage among survivors.

They say the church, itself the architect of a decades-long cover-up of abuse, is effectively using the delay and ensuing death of perpetrators to argue that it can no longer receive a fair trial.

Institutions were emboldened by a decision in the NSW court of appeal last year, first reported by Guardian Australia, which ruled the death of the Lismore priest Father Clarence Anderson left the diocese unable to fairly defend itself against the allegations of a woman known as GLJ, who alleges that she was abused as a 14-year-old girl in 1968.

Court documents show the church had known of other abuse complaints against Anderson before GLJ’s abuse but failed to remove him from circulation, instead moving him between parishes, including Kyogle, Macksville, Maclean and Lismore. All four parishes showed complaints of abuse against Anderson, according to church records unearthed in the case.

GLJ’s lawyers, Ken Cush and Associates, have appealed the decision to the high court. The case is due to be heard in early June.

In another case, also revealed by Guardian Australia, the Marist Brothers Catholic order used the recent death of Brother Francis “Romuald” Cable, one of NSW’s worst Catholic school offenders, to attempt to block a claim by one of his survivors.

The Marists argued his death left the order unable to ask him about the abuse and therefore unable to receive a fair trial.

That argument was made despite the Marists being on notice of the claim for 22 months before Cable died.

They did nothing to seek his response to the allegations in that period.

Lawyers for the survivor, known by the pseudonym Mark Peters, accused the Marist Brothers of deliberately waiting for Cable’s death and then using it to stay the case.

The mother of another of Cable’s victims, Audrey Nash, whose son died by suicide aged 13, heavily criticised the church for its tactics.

“It’s disgraceful. Just disgraceful,” she said earlier this year. “More than that, it’s gutless … They learn nothing, they don’t change. In fact, they get worse.

“Now Romuald is dead, they’re trying to make out you can’t sue. I don’t know, it’s just awful. It really is. It’s worse than that, but I can’t say the words, the swear words.”

The NSW supreme court recently rejected the church’s attempt to use Cable’s death to stay the claim, finding the Marist Brothers should not have “the benefit of its own inaction”.

More recently, Scouts NSW was also successful in seeking a stay in a case where the perpetrator was still alive and available to give evidence about his former employer’s deficient child protection systems.

Despite his availability to give evidence, the courts found he would not be a reliable witness, because he may tend to give evidence that shifted blame onto his former employer.

That, combined with the absence of records and the deaths of other witnesses, left the institution unable to receive a fair trial against allegations it had failed to protect the survivor from harm, the court found.

The decision is being appealed.

The child abuse royal commission did not recommend reforms to end the ability of institutions to use stay applications in abuse cases, though critics say it could not have contemplated that they would be used in this fashion.

The royal commission did, however, make clear recognition of the barriers that delay survivors from coming forward for, on average, 22 years. The royal commission recommended that time limits on bringing claims be removed in recognition of the delay, leading to reforms across all jurisdictions.

Plaintiff lawyers and survivors, including John Ellis, say the use of stay applications where clergy have died goes against the intention of those reforms.

“In circumstances where there has been strong evidence in the royal commission of religious bodies being aware of abuses and covering them up, creating a situation where the leaders of the religious bodies became ‘the keepers of the secrets’, it is immoral for the same institutions to rely on the delay by survivors in coming forward … [and] the death of those ‘secret keepers’ to defeat the claims of survivors,” Ellis said earlier this year.

Complete Article HERE!