SNAP applauds the three brave victims in a new class action lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC
(For Immediate Release October 2, 2023)
A class action lawsuit was filed jointly today by the law firms of Schochor, Staton, Goldberg and Cardea, P.A. and Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland against the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC. These two leading civil litigations firms were able to proceed with this action because the Maryland Child Victims Act went into effect on October 1st.
SNAP is grateful to the attorneys for moving forward with this case, which features the testimonies of three adults abused as children in the Archdiocese. We are in awe of the bravery of these survivors in speaking out and sharing their individual stories, despite having suffered a wide variety of serious physical, emotional, and financial injuries.
The lawsuit accuses the Archdiocese of engaging in a pattern of conduct that permitted Catholic boys and girls in its churches and school to suffer sexual abuse for decades. The Archdiocese has acknowledged having 34 “credibly accused” clergy. Bishop-Accountability.org, the independent watchdog group that has been tracking the Catholic abuse scandal for 20 years, puts the number of abusers in Washington DC at 45.
Based on our information and experience, we believe that despite the 2002 promise of openness and transparency by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, that much information about these crimes remains hidden. We hope this civil action will help shine a light into those dark places in this Archdiocese.
We also hope that victims who have been suffering alone and in silence will find courage from the stories set forth in the complaint to speak out themselves. There are people who will believe them and support them.
The press release from the law firms can be seen here>>https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/schochor-staton-goldberg-and-cardea-pa-and-janet-janet--suggs-llc-file-class-action-lawsuit-against-archdiocese-of-washington-301944633.html
CONTACT: David Lorenz, SNAP Maryland leader ([email protected], 301-906-9161), Becky Ianni, Virginia and DC SNAP leader ([email protected], (703) 801-6044) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director [email protected], 267-261-0578) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(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)
For immediate release: September 29, 2023
At a press conference yesterday, End Clergy Abuse (ECA) and clergy abuse survivors and advocates representing 25 countries from around the world called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) and to rescind his elevation to Cardinal. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, joins our allies at ECA in their call for the Pope to rescind the appointment and elevation of Archbishop Fernández.
Among the responsibilities of the the DDF is the handling of sexual abuse accusations brought against clergy. In fact, this responsibility constitutes 80% of its work. Yet earlier this year, Archbishop Fernández admitted that he made "mistakes" in handling a 2019 case of a priest accused of sexually abusing children. On this basis, we too urgently call for Pope Francis to replace the Archbishop on the DDF, and to reconsider his selection as Cardinal.
For Immediate Release: September 28, 2023
On Tuesday, a news article provided the public with additional information about “lost” reports of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by priests, cannot help but wonder how many other complaints are “missing,” and if any of those accused are still in ministry?
The Archdiocese claims that it has no records of reports of child sexual abuse against Deacon Virgil Maxey “VM” Wheeler III, from 2002. According to the article, the mother of Mac McCall told Archbishop Philip Hannan that year that Wheeler had tried to get Mac’s older brother into bed with him during a ski trip to Utah. Knowing that Wheeler wanted to become a Deacon, she also reported to the head of the Archdiocese’s diaconate program at the time, Jim Swiler.
Wheeler, who was ordained in 2018 and died earlier this year, was charged with the rape of Mac and arrested in March of 2021. The Deacon pleaded guilty in December of the following year to a lesser crime, and was sentenced to probation and sex offender registration.
It stretches credulity to believe that the Archdiocese has no record of either the report to Archbishop Hannan or Swiler. Because of this, Wheeler was later allowed to enter the diaconate program and was ordained by the current Archbishop, Gregory Aymond. We also note that it took two reports to Archbishop Aymond about Wheeler, one in 2018 and the second in 2020, for this dangerous man to finally be removed from ministry.
For immediate release: September 27, 2023
On Tuesday in Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar reported the arrest of a Catholic priest who had worked in numerous parishes in the San Antonio Archdiocese since 2017. The clergyman has been accused of raping a woman in her seventies on multiple occasions. SNAP is grateful for this prosecution, but believes that the cleric's frequent transfers are a major red flag.
Fr. George Mbugua Ndungu, also known as Fr. Wanjiru, has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. According to the Sheriff, an accusation of improper behavior by the priest was first brought to the attention of the Archdiocese by a church employee. In the subsequent Archdiocesan investigation, the elderly parishioner came forward.
While it is encouraging to see law enforcement pursue Catholic clerics who are accused of sexually assaulting adults, we take issue with Sheriff Salazar’s comment that “it is common for priests like Ndungu to be transferred to different churches every so often.” To us, frequent transfers, especially in the short time frame since 2017, are a red flag. We fear the frequent moves may signal other abuse and we encourage law enforcement to visit each of the parishes where Fr. Ndungu was assigned to urge other victims to come forward. Secular investigations in Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan showed that Church officials used expedited transfers of known abusers as a way to prevent scandal. In reality, these transfers enabled abusers to gain access to additional victims.
(For Immediate Release September 27, 2023)
As survivors from across the world converge on Italy to push for widespread reform in how the Catholic hierarchy deals with abuse and cover-up, we are humbled and grateful to be a part of this potentially historic effort. SNAP Board President, Shaun Dougherty will be among those ‘Voices of Justice’ joining our allies at ECA (End Clergy Abuse) in the week-long events.
It is alarming to us that this papal synod will evidently not address the church's most serious ongoing crisis: child-molesting clergy and their enabling superiors. Every time Catholic officials convene without addressing this ongoing crisis explicitly, they embolden clergy who deny, minimize, neglect, and conceal this devastating scandal. Too frequently, church officials miss out on crucial chances to make the church and society safer and healthier. In doing so, they perpetuate the harmful myth that most of the wrongdoing has occurred in the past. This results in irresponsible and insensitive complacency, which places at risk innocent children and vulnerable adults.
Pope Francis said he wants an 'authentic' synod, not just a meeting 'to project a good image of ourselves.' As we see it, how can any church event, especially one of this magnitude, be truly 'authentic' without addressing the enormous elephant in the room: the sexual violation of the vulnerable and the cover-up of these violations by the church hierarchy?
For immediate release on September 22, 2023
In the wake of the passage of Maryland's Child Victims Act (CVA), which will go into effect on October 1, 2023, Archbishop William E. Lori is already saying that his Archdiocese may need to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
. Considering that no lawsuits have been filed, we find it extremely troubling that the Archbishop is prematurely suggesting this legal maneuver. We believe that Catholic entities invoke the federal bankruptcy laws primarily to hide information, as well as to short-change for those who have suffered life-long damages because of unconscionable decisions to keep dangerous men in positions of authority. The bankruptcy tactic may benefit the Archdiocese, but it is disingenuous for the Archbishop to imply that he is doing this to be fair to survivors.
What has been lacking in Baltimore, as in other Catholic dioceses, is accountability and transparency. Even the extensive report published by the Maryland Attorney General's Office contained redacted names of perpetrators and those who covered up abuse. Although all were ultimately revealed by the media
, we think it is important to note that the Archdiocese itself refused to reveal those names.
If Baltimore files for bankruptcy, those who brought lawsuits will become creditors, and the bankruptcy court will set a date by which any other claims must be filed. However, the bankruptcy court is unlikely to demand that the identities of any new abusers named in civil actions or in bankruptcy claims be publicized, and we know that we cannot count on the Archdiocese to take this step. Once again, there will be no truth or transparency.
(For Immediate Release September 15, 2023)
A Catholic priest working for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been arrested for possessing child pornography in Ventura County. We applaud law enforcement for their work in this case and for following through on a tip provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Child pornography is a crime with many victims, many of whom may never realize that they were exploited until later in life. We know this level of abuse has been on the rise in many faith denominations and includes many predators and a tragically long shelf life.
Fr. Rodolfo Martinez-Guevara, 38, is a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, Martinez-Guevara is associated with several churches including Our Lady of Guadalupe in Oxnard. He has been charged with possession or control of child pornography and aggravated possession of child pornography, containing more than 600 images. His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 15. He is in custody in lieu of a $750,000 bail bond.
In December 2021, Martinez-Guevara was ordained by Bishop Robert Barron. Several criminal cases involving Catholic clergymen have been investigated. It is an alarming trend that religious life appears to be a haven for this type of criminal behavior and a breeding ground for digital delusions involving the lives of young, innocent people.
Now, Catholic officials in Los Angeles and Father Peter Artega, Provincial Superior of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, must promptly call on any victims, witnesses, or whistleblowers with relevant information to come forward and provide it to law enforcement. Father Rodolfo Martinez-Guevara's complete pre-seminary, academic, and employment history must also be made public and reviewed, with the goal of determining whether any children were victimized at any of his posts.
Studies have shown that 85% of those accused of related offenses involving child pornography also have been hands-on abusers. We are extremely concerned about the possibility of hands-on abuse in this case and beseech church officials, prosecutors, and the California Attorney General to do whatever it takes to identify the hands-on victims.
The Catholic leadership frequently asserts that instances of sexual abuse inside the Church are confined to historical occurrences. However, incidents such as the one at hand serve as evidence to the contrary. According to internal monitoring conducted by SNAP, law enforcement agencies in a minimum of 30 states have taken legal action, such as arrests or initiation of criminal procedures, against priests who are now living and actively employed, and who have been implicated in cases of sexual abuse. This necessitates that both parishioners and the general public remain attentive and proactive in safeguarding youngsters within their respective communities.
CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
For immediate release: September 13, 2023
A yearlong investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland was released on Tuesday. While we are encouraged by the fact that the report highlighted the systematic cover-up of such crimes within the Church, we would have to agree with the accompanying acknowledgement that the findings represent “only the tip of the iceberg.”
The study, commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference and undertaken by the University of Zurich’s Historical Seminar, released a report of their findings yesterday. The investigation documented 1,002 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century, cases involving 510 accused and 921 victims. However, comparing the findings to those from other places around the world, those numbers are seriously undercounted, as we were happy to see the report acknowledged.
Switzerland has 3.3 million Catholics. Northern California has only 2.8 Million. Yet 1100 perpetrators have been found in NorCal, more than twice the number found in the Swiss study. 2,000 victims filed lawsuits and countless more that have come forward quietly, again more than double the Swiss number. It is also likely that the number of victims in NorCal does not reveal the full extent of the damage done by the criminal behavior of priests. Not all victims survive, and not all survivors come forward. If each California abuser had only 30 victims -- and some will have many more -- we likely have as many as 33,000 boys and girls in NorCal who suffered life-long damage because of the systemic cover-up of crimes by the Catholic Church.
UPDATE: The Lagniappe exposé is now available to read for free here. This op-ed from the media outlet may also be of interest.
For Immediate Release: September 12, 2023
McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Alabama recently made international news because of reports that the Archdiocese, as well as the staff at the school, ignored complaints about a Catholic priest who absconded to Italy with a recent McGill graduate. Sadly, Fr. Alex Crow was apparently not the only case to be mishandled by school officials and the Church.
On Sunday, Mobile media outlet Lagniappe posted a major exposé on child sex abuse at the Catholic high school entitled, “Victims say leaders ignored past and present abuse at McGill.” The outstanding piece was written by Rob Hobert, with contributions from Dale Liesch and Kyle Hamrick.
We are so grateful to brave survivors Clark Glenn, Sallie McPhearson, and Brian Pierre for their contributions to this comprehensive report. It is because of courageous victims like them that information about abuse in Catholic institutions has been exposed and is being addressed, albeit far too slowly. According to the Lagniappe, victims of abuse perpetrated by clergy at McGill say there is one constant — an administration and Archdiocese bent on covering for abusers and squelching criticism of the school.