Florida’s most notorious predator priest, Fr. Neil Doherty, pled no contest on January 14 to molesting kids. Police and prosecutors built a strong case against him, in part, because of evidence unearthed in more than 20 civil lawsuits against Doherty over the years.
It’s a part of the clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis that few people are aware of: the fact that civil lawsuits can lead to criminal prosecution of predators. Civil litigation enables victims and their advocates to expose long-secret church records as a part of the “discovery” process (including critical evidence—documents, photos, depositions, personnel files—that criminal investigations often overlook). The result: more predators are convicted and kept away from kids.
Civil litigation has led to the arrests of other predators, including Fr. Bruce MacArthur, Fr. A. J. Cote, and Fr. Donald McGuire (the Jesuit who was once Mother Teresa’s confessor). It’s happened at least six times in California alone (with Fr. George Neville Rucker, Fr. Denis Lyons, Fr. Michael Wempe, Fr. Michael Baker, and Fr. Edward Anthony Rodrigue).
Law enforcement authorities are human. They’re often overworked and underpaid. They always have plenty on their plates.
But when an abuse victim or his/her lawyer walk into the police station with dozens or hundreds of files about a credibly accused child molester, it makes the job of secular officials considerably easier.
So remember this the next time you hear a church official or congregant say “these victims, these lawsuits, it’s all about the money.” That’s what many who help or enable child molesters want you to think. But it’s about prevention too, by both deterring future crimes and cover ups and by locking up the predators.