Survivors of clergy sex abuse tell their stories before bankruptcy court and Archbishop William Lori, Baltimore officials

Victim-survivor Teresa Lancaster, center, leaves the United States District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore City following her April 8, 2024, testimony in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case.

By Christopher Gunty

Six victim-survivors of sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Baltimore gave statements in court April 8 about the long-term impact of the abuse on their lives as part of the federal bankruptcy reorganization.

The testimonies were off the record and not transcribed. Judge Michelle M. Harner, who is overseeing the Chapter 11 case, noted that the statements are not evidentiary in the case.

Their primary purpose, she said, was to “increase engagement and understanding” and to provide a forum for those affected by the pre-bankruptcy conduct of the archdiocese and its representatives.

“Today is a listening session and an opportunity for individuals to be heard,” Harner said.

Archbishop William E. Lori and Auxiliary Bishop Adam J. Parker attended the hearing, sitting in the front of the courtroom. They both hugged the first survivor who spoke.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks to media outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore following the April 8, 2024, testimony by victim-survivors in the archdiocesan bankruptcy case.

Harner thanked each person who made a statement — three women and three men — for their participation in the process. About 50 people attended the hearing at the federal courthouse in Baltimore.

Some of those who spoke to the court specifically addressed the archbishop. In one poignant moment, one of the victim-survivors also turned to address other victim-survivors in court, reminding them that as adults, they can take control of their healing.

Some common themes emerged in the victim-survivors’ statements — further abuse, troubled marriages and divorces, issues of trusting anyone, and other problems that have plagued their lives. Some noted that the chance to bring their experience to the court would be an important part of their healing.

In one touching moment, during one victim-survivor’s statement, the woman who was first to speak reached over the handrail to hold the hand of her husband, sitting just behind her.
The session, scheduled for two hours, ended after just an hour. Another such session is scheduled for May 20, which Archbishop Lori also will attend.

Paul Jan Zdunek, who chairs the Unsecured Creditors Committee, a group of seven people who represent all the victim-survivors in the case, said after the session that he was surprised at how quickly the session went, “despite it didn’t feel that way. I thought everyone was really great with their words and their preparation and the courage that it took to do that in front of everybody.”

He said he appreciated that the judge supported the process and allowed each participant to have the time they needed to tell their story.

“We even heard from them that this was a healing moment and a moment they’ve been waiting for in some cases 50 years, which is extraordinary. I think what struck me today was beyond the moments that happened when they were children, how much it has affected them since, you know, 50 years ago, 60 years of a life gone,” Zdunek told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet.

He said he was not surprised to hear that many of those who spoke have issues trusting others, especially because the abuse happened in a church or school by someone who was supposed to minister to them. “Here it is the one place that you’re supposed to be safe and have been told, you know, as a Catholic raised myself, that this is the truth, the light, the way, the place for salvation — and to have that be the place that trust leaves you is devastating,” Zdunek said.

In advance of the hearing, he said the members of the survivors committee — five of whom attended the hearing — purposely wanted to allow others not on the committee to have the first opportunity to speak in court. He said that in this process, the committee already has the ear of the archbishop. “We thought it was important for others to really have the chance to speak.”

He expects the May 20 hearing to be similar. “He wanted to see how this went first, but I’d imagine it’s not going to be too much different than this.”

The deadline to file a claim in the case is May 31.

Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Adam J. Parker and Archbishop William E. Lori leave the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore April 8, 2024, following testimony by victim-survivors in the archdiocese bankruptcy case.

Teresa F. Lancaster, one of those who spoke in court, addressed reporters after the hearing and noted that she had testified in support of the Child Victims Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2023, which removed the statute of limitations for civil suits for child sexual abuse.

She acknowledged that abuse has happened not just in the church, but also in other schools and organizations.

Asked whether her day in court was a day that she has long been waiting for, Lancaster, who eventually became an attorney so she could help other victims, said, “We wanted our day in court and we were deprived of it. So, I felt somewhat, and I want all the survivors to feel that, hey, your voice has been heard, you’re just as important, and people know what happened now.”

Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Archbishop Lori said he came as a pastor and priest and was moved by the testimony that he heard.

“My meetings with victim-survivors over the years have taught me the importance of their being able to tell their story, the importance of being heard and listened to, and being believed, and so I came to listen,” he said, adding that he “hopes that by doing this I can contribute in some small way to the healing of the of these individuals and what they’ve been through.”

He said that after the passage of the Child Victims Act, the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization “so that we could, in fact, help as many victim survivors as equitably as we can while at the same time carrying forward the mission of the church, of our parishes, our charities and our schools.”

Asked if he has said he is sorry for the pain experienced by those abused, the archbishop said, “I’ve said it many times. and will say it to the end of my life. But I recognize that no apology of mine undoes what was done. Listening, believing, does a lot more.

“I’ve listened and met with victim survivors for a long, long time and every time I listen, it shakes me — every time.”

In a statement released later in the day, Archbishop Lori said, “I am deeply grateful to the victim-survivors for their courage today and I am moved by their heart-rending experience.

“To the victim-survivors who long to hear that someone is sorry for the trauma they endured and for its life-altering consequences: I am profoundly sorry. I offer my sincerest apology on behalf of the archdiocese for the terrible harm caused to them by representatives of the church,” he said. “What happened to them never should have occurred. No child should ever, ever suffer such harm.”

He added his thanks to those of Harner, saying, “I ask that the focus today be on the courage and bravery of the women and men who offered their statements and those they represent.

“Their stories and those of the victim-survivors I’ve met with privately for decades, emboldens our response and determination to ensure no child in our care is ever again harmed. I am grateful to the Survivors Committee for initiating the request to offer victim-survivors this opportunity today, which I sincerely pray will further assist them in their journey toward healing.”

The hearing comes a year and three days after the Maryland Office of the Attorney General released an extensive report on clergy sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, signed the Child Victims Act into law April 11, 2023. It went into effect Oct. 1, 2023.

Complete Article HERE!

He led an anti-gay Catholic site.

— Staffers say he sent them racy selfies.

Michael Voris, founder of Church Militant, at a conference in Baltimore in November 2021.

At the far-right Church Militant, Michael Voris accused liberal Catholics and others he opposed of being gay until he resigned over unspecified ‘morality’ concerns. Staffers now say he had shared shirtless gym photos.

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In his 17 years as a self-appointed enforcer of what he viewed as traditional Catholicism, Michael Voris developed a go-to strategy for taking on his targets: accusing them of being gay.

The head of far-right website Church Militant, Voris often claimed the Catholic church was secretly run by an “international gay-crime syndicate.” In a 2020 webcast, he referred to the Black archbishop of Washington as a term many viewed as both a racial and gay slur, provoking an outraged backlash from church scholars and officials.

“Are you homosexual, yes or no?” Voris demanded in 2017 on a typical episode of his online show, in which he monologued furiously about a prominent Jesuit priest with liberal political beliefs. A year earlier, Voris had floridly repented for his own past relationships with men, calling homosexuality abhorrent.

Over the past decade, Church Militant also waged war on secular liberals and moderate Catholics, but most emphatically on LGBTQ+ people and causes. It was Voris’s platform for publicizing photos of a gay church employee in San Diego with his husband after they were already facing harassment, and raising money to support a priest who was removed from his job after burning a rainbow banner. Church Militant had more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers, dozens of employees, and listed $3.6 million in annual revenue in its 2022 tax filings — thanks in large part to donations raised by its charismatic founder.

Then it all came crashing down. In November, Voris resigned over what his board described as a breach of Church Militant’s “morality clause,” with no other public explanation of his offense.

Interviews with staff and documents viewed by The Washington Post, though, reveal that employees had complained that Voris had sent shirtless workout photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates.

Voris’s trouble began April, when strange images appeared on Church Militant’s cloud-storage account, according to several staff members: shirtless selfies of Voris, some of them cut off just above his pelvis, along with a screenshot of a text-message exchange screenshot from someone expressing that they found the images sexually arousing.

On a Dropbox account typically reserved for matters such as the syllabus for an online class about the book of Ephesians, these new images stood out. Employees speculated that they had been uploaded unintentionally from Voris’s phone along with business documents meant for staff viewing.

Voris and Church Militant did not respond to requests for comment. Days after his resignation, several staffers were laid off and escorted out of their suburban Detroit offices. In a Dec. 15 email to supporters, its board acknowledged Voris was embroiled in an unspecified “scandal,” and said it has launched an independent audit of his financial management.

Voris is a former local television reporter who was raised Catholic but committed himself more deeply to the faith after his mother died of cancer 20 years ago, he has said. In 2006, he launched Church Militant under the name “Real Catholic TV” — a name it kept until 2011, when the Archdiocese of Detroit asked the fractious outlet to drop “Catholic” from its name.

It found its footing in a conservative strain of American Catholicism rebelling against Pope Francis’s liberalization efforts — especially recent measures signaling greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, such as granting permission for priests to bless same-sex couples. In 2014, Voris railed against a decision to allow gay organizations to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and fumed a year later after openly gay comedian Mo Rocca delivered a reading at a mass officiated by Francis in New York.

“He was convinced that everything had to be destroyed in the Catholic Church in order for everything to be rebuilt,” said Alejandro Bermudez, the former head of Catholic News Agency, now a consultant for Catholic media outlets, who described Voris as a “flamethrower.”

Church Militant hit a new level of prominence after what some Catholics have dubbed the 2018 “Summer of Shame,” when the church was deluged with new sexual abuse allegations. Voris ratcheted up his attacks on issues of sexuality.

“He knew he was going to get eyeballs on content that was controversial in nature,” said Marc Brammer, an early Church Militant investor who has since distanced himself from Voris.

>And as a supporter of then-president Donald Trump, Voris bolstered his profile with other conservative figures. Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon hailed him as a “fighter,” and he hosted friendly interviews with MAGA power players like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp.

But Voris’s own personal history frequently complicated his stance on gay people. In 2016, he publicly acknowledged on his show that, decades earlier, he had lived an “extremely sinful” life of “live-in relationships with homosexual men.” Voris said the admission was meant to preempt attacks from his enemies within the church and that he was no longer in sexual relationships with men, having come to “abhor all these sins.”

Voris kept up his attacks on LGBTQ+ people even after his admission about his own past, and Church Militant continued to grow. But the workout selfies brought old questions about Voris’s sexuality back to the surface — in addition to raising concerns about workplace harassment — for a conservative cohort that largely disapproves of homosexuality, according to ex-employees and three letters from staffers to Church Militant’s board that were reviewed by The Post.

Former employees told The Post that the dozens of shirtless images that showed up in the office Dropbox account appeared to have been uploaded accidentally, and that someone at the organization took quick steps to shut down access.

In early November, fellow Church Militant webcast host Christine Niles warned the board that Voris had also sent pictures directly and apparently intentionally to other men, including some of his employees. (In April, a rival personality on far-right Catholic Twitter had already called out Voris for his alleged selfie-sharing habit, posting an image he had obtained of Voris photographing himself shirtless at a gym and asking why the Church Militant leader was sending “half-nude selfies to his young, single male employees.”)

“I’ve learned Michael has been in the habit of sending shirtless selfies to multiple men inside and outside the apostolate,” Niles wrote in the letter, announcing her resignation, a copy of which was reviewed by The Post. “They reveal an unhealthy obsession with his physique, not to mention the terrible optics — particularly considering his former lifestyle.” She also warned that copies of the photos still existed on employee hard drives, posing the risk of a scandal.

A group of Church Militant employees sent their own unsigned letter to the board that same month, complaining that Voris had sent a selfie to a prominent potential donor that they believed had cost them a sizable contribution, according to a copy reviewed by The Post.

In a separate letter to Church Militant’s board also viewed by The Post, ex-employee Hunter Bradford said there was a “cult” of fear around Voris at the office.

Niles and Bradford did not respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t know if it was a gym bro thing or what,” Joe Gallagher, a former Church Militant employee, told The Post. (Gallagher quit in November 2022 after he said Voris accused him of plotting a coup against him.) “A whole bunch of young guys got them, I know that.”

After Voris resigned, Church Militant sold two of its office buildings in late December, according to court records. But the organization remains in financial jeopardy. A lawsuit from a priest suing Church Militant for defamation in New Hampshire is scheduled for trial in March.

In its December fundraising email, the board said that “the Evil One” had taken a “huge bite” out of the company, suggesting the whole outlet could collapse without more donor support.< “We would hate to lose this place to the Devil,” the fundraising email read. Yet after years of Voris’s scorched-earth tactics and dancing around controversy, few of Church Militant’s old supporters seem to be mourning the loss of its leader. “Nobody is saying ‘Oh, what a shame, so sad,’” said Bermudez, the Catholic-media consultant. “Nobody, not one.” Complete Article HERE!

‘Deliver Us From Evil’

— Rape, Reproductive Coercion and the Catholic Church

Anti-abortion marchers and parishioners walk from the Old St. Patrick’s Church to a Planned Parenthood clinic where they pray as a protest against abortions, on April 1, 2023 in New York City.

For decades, the Catholic Church has shown a disregard for clergy sexual abuse and reproductive health. Why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?

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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.

rape-abortion-catholic-church-sexual-child-abuse-priests
Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists, display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), during a protest during the papal summit on Feb. 23, 2019, in Rome.

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.

Another group working to hold the Catholic Church accountable for clergy sexual abuse is the BishopsAccountability.org, which maintains a database of the accused, searchable by religious order, as well as a timeline of key events of the abuse crisis in the U.S. and the world, information on accused bishops, an archive of lawsuits and related documents, and an abuse tracker with daily news stories on clergy sexual abuse.

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?

Complete Article HERE!

‘Another level of coverup’

— How a Mass. law prevents clergy abuse survivors from getting justice

Skip Shea

By Nancy Eve Cohen

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.
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 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.”

Alternate strategies

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 individual for negligence — someone who worked for the diocese and who supervised a 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.
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.

Complete Article HERE!

California friars file for bankruptcy in wake of sex abuse lawsuits

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.

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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.

The Franciscan Friars of California joins a growing wave of Roman Catholic organizations that have filed for bankruptcy to address sex abuse lawsuits.

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

For the debtor: Robert Harris of Binder & Malter