Letter to California AG Regarding Loophole Keeping Children in Danger
Dear AG Becerra,
A lawsuit was recently settled between a Catholic high school and a survivor who was a student at the time of her abuse. The perpetrator was a lay teacher named Jeffrey Hicks. We call your attention to this matter because it highlights a number of contemporary failures that we hope your office will investigate and remedy.
First, although the abuse was reported when it occurred, the mandatory reporters at Presentation High School in the Diocese of San Jose failed to act. Instead, they apparently undertook an internal investigation and pressured the victim to not make a police report. If this was not bad enough, the school allowed Mr. Hicks to participate as the director of a performing arts camp after the victim’s outcry, telling her family that $65,000 had already been collected for the camp and would have to be returned otherwise. If that were to occur, the school said it would be “impossible” to protect the identity of the survivor. The teacher was then quietly let go at the end of the summer.
Second, the abuser was employed by a Catholic school within the Diocese of San Jose, but was not a clergyman. The diocese has published a list of abusive priests but does not acknowledge or name lay employees or nuns who have been accused of abuse, either those who abused at Presentation or those who abused at Bellarmine College Preparatory, also within the territory of the Diocese of San Jose. The Diocese of Santa Rosa follows the same playbook; although Hanna Boys Center is a Catholic facility within the diocese and the Santa Rosa bishop sits on its board, lay employees who have abused are not named on the Santa Rosa list.
Similar examples can no doubt be found around the state and across the country. We believe this is an intentional attempt by Catholic officials to under count the number of abusers who were active within a diocese, and to cover up what was done, or not done, when they were reported. Unfortunately, by doing so, additional children are put at risk because these abusers remain hidden.
Third, the Presentation High School abuser went on to teach at a private school for disabled children where he engaged in similar behavior. In 2014, Mr. Hicks was convicted of possessing child pornography and annoyingor molesting a minor while employed at Stanbridge Academy, a private school for children with learning disabilities. The victim at Stanbridge Academy would not have been harmed by this teacher had the San Jose school performed its legal obligations to report him in 2004.
Survivors from Presentation High School have developed a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter presence dedicated to exposing past sexual abuse and preventing future victims at their alma mater. While the women have documented scores of abuse cases and failure to report, the San Jose Police Department quietly closed its investigation recently.
As you subpoena files from dioceses across California, we hope that your scope will be broad enough to include the Catholic elementary and high schools within the geography of each diocesan jurisdiction. The children who go to those schools are predominantly Catholic, and the schools, whatever their technical ownership, fall under the jurisdiction of each bishop in whose geography they operate. There are hundreds of Catholic elementary schools, and dozens of Catholic high schools in California. Priests are implicated in abuse some of them, but so are lay employees and nuns. Those crimes must also be identified and their victims offered support and healing.
The fact that Mr. Hick’s crimes occurred after the Dallas Charter (2002) and despite California’s mandatory reporter laws should be alarming to everyone.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests