In Unprecedented Numbers, U.S. Bishops Named in Lawsuits and Why It Matters

(Warning. This report includes graphic language that may trigger bad reactions in those who have been sexually abused.)

Since March 2019, 15 bishops (see below) have been named in lawsuits either as perpetrators of sexual abuse or for covering up the sexual assaults of others. This is important because while “priests were raping boys and girls, the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades, monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals were protected; many were promoted,” stated a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Thousands of American priests have been sued but relatively few U.S. bishops have been identified by name in court proceedings. “For true bishop accountability to occur, two things must happen: 1) there must be a full account of the bishops’ responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis and 2) bishops who have caused the abuse of children and vulnerable adults must be held accountable,” leaders of the online database, BishopAccountability.org, concluded.

This is happening under civil law and not by the Church. “Never before have so many states acted in near-unison to lift the restrictions that once shut people out if they didn’t bring claims of childhood sex abuse by a certain age, often their early 20s,” the Associated Press reported.

Six bishops were named in lawsuits filed after New York enacted a law on Aug. 14, 2019, that extends the statute of limitations “to allow claims stretching back decades.” Seven other states  and Washington D.C. now have similar “lookback windows” that begin in 2020, including populous states like California and New Jersey. Another seven states have raised the age limit for claimants filing lawsuits.

This has resulted in “potentially more than 5,000 new cases and payouts topping $4 billion” according to the Associated Press. That’s in addition to the “$4 billion already paid out since the clergy sex abuse first came to light in the 1980s.”

“The survivors coming forward now have been holding on to this horrific experience all of their lives,” said 71-year-old Nancy Holling-Lonnecker. “They bottled up those emotions all of these years because there was no place to take it.” Holling-Lonnecker’s claim “dates back to the 1950s, when she says a priest repeatedly raped her in a confession booth beginning when she was 7 years old.”

Also, as of as of October 2019, 22 state attorneys general are now investigating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

So the lawsuits filed this past year appear to be just a beginning.

Much of these actions by state governments can be attributed to the Pennsylvania grand jury report disclosing “pervasive child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, listing more than 300 accused clergy and over a 1,000 confirmed child victims.” Heinous occurrences included:

Pittsburgh priests operated an “extensive child porn ring.” This group of priests “raped children, shared intelligence on potential victims and manufactured child pornography in parishes and rectories.” They “used whips, violence, and sadism in raping their victims.”

One priest, “grooming his middle school students for oral sex, taught them how Mary had to ‘bite off the cord’ and ‘lick’ Jesus clean when he was born. It took 15 years and numerous other reports for this priest to be removed from service.”

How the Church responds: Pope Francis makes headlines not “true accountability.”

The most recent notorious American prelate is former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. On June 20, 2018, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced that the Archdiocesan Review Board found the allegation of sex abuse of a minor by McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.” After Dolan’s announcement, two other accusations of sexual abuse of minors by McCarrick were revealed.

As the above was widely reported, it was agreed among Church insiders that “everyone knew” about McCarrick’s sexual predation of young priests and seminarians.

Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 and assigned him to “a life of prayer and penance”  in a Kansas friary – an unenforceable seclusion. McCarrick has since moved to an “undisclosed” location of his own choosing.

In February 2019, a week before his much-publicized Vatican “summit” on child sex abuse, Pope Francis made headlines by laicizing (defrocking) McCarrick.

Laicizing an 89-year-old, “financially independent” prelate may be “accountability” of sorts, but it is hardly a deterrent to other bishops.

A Vatican investigation into “how McCarrick could have ascended in Church ranks when many are said to have been aware of his alleged abuses; how he could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when,” was announced in October 2018 is still waiting for Pope F...

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