A Lawsuit Against Portsmouth Abbey Shows Abuse Scandal Is Still Thriving and Catholic Officials Are Still Protecting Themselves Instead Of Victims
A Catholic school in Rhode Island is being sued by a young woman who accuses a teacher of sexually abusing her from 2012 to 2014. This story is yet another example that the abuse scandal continues to be a major problem in the Church, one that requires secular oversight and intervention to solve.
According to the lawsuit, Michael Bowen Smith abused the woman during her sophomore, junior, and senior years at Portsmouth Abbey School, a Benedictine facility in Portsmouth, RI. One of the most disturbing details of this lawsuit is that Smith was allowed to quietly resign from his position after school officials learned of the sexual abuse allegations. Smith was then able to get a teaching job in New York and his victim says in her lawsuit that she was subjected to his cyberstalking and continued abuse for additional years because Portsmouth Abbey officials cared more about protecting their reputations than they did about the victim.
This is yet another example of the abuse playbook that was detailed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro in his 2018 grand jury report. To us, the situation demonstrates that all Catholic institutions are prone to the same kind of minimizing language and quiet cover-up that has allowed the sexual abuse scandal to thrive for so long.
The lawsuit mentions that the girl's parents were made to feel like “annoyances” for bringing forward concerns about Smith and that they were brushed aside by school administrators. This is unconscionable and any official who was made aware of the allegations against Smith but chose not to act should be fired immediately. When parents try in good faith to protect their children and are rebuffed by school administrators, it is clear that outside law enforcement needs to step in and bring charges. We believe that this case is well within the criminal statute of limitations in RI and we hope that police are pursuing charges against Smith as well as any Portsmouth Abbey official that failed to properly report the abuse.
Smith taught at Portsmouth Abbey for 13 years and we can only wonder how many other parents were shamed or ignored by administrators when they reported their own concerns. Current school officials must use every resource at their disposal to ensure parents and alumni are made aware of the lawsuit and that anyone else who may have suffered or witnessed abuse is encouraged to come forward and make a report to law enforcement, not to Portsmouth Abbey.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)