The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Thursday, January 20, 2011
Church exploits legal technicality in child sex case; SNAP responds
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])
Shame on Presbyterian officials for acting like cold-hearted CEOs instead of compassionate shepherds in a pending child sex abuse and cover up case. It’s very distressing to see another denomination taking the same selfish and hurtful legal maneuvers taken by hundreds of complicit Catholic bishops.
If the Presbyterians are innocent of ignoring or concealing devastating child sex crimes, they have nothing to fear in the current case. But by seeking to exploit the arbitrary statute of limitations, they are essentially admitting they’re afraid of incriminating evidence of their wrong doing that will likely surface if this brave victim gets his day in court.
Church officials should do what’s right and defend themselves on the merits, not hide behind convenient but archaic and predator-friendly legal technicalities.
The church’s report last year on child abuse and cover ups in Presbyterian agencies overseas is looking more and more like a public relations move than a sincere effort to foster healing.
We hope that others who saw, suspected or suffered Warlick’s crimes will come forward, get help, call police, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])
Presbyterian Church seeks dismissal of abuse lawsuit
By Peter Smith • [email protected] • January 19, 2011
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging it failed to prevent the sexual abuse of a teenager by an older teen at an African mission boarding house in 1988.
The Louisville-based denomination says the suit should be barred under the statute of limitations because it happened so long ago — a stance the plaintiff's lawyer calls "hypocritical," following a church commission's recommendation that the church lobby against such statutes.
Meanwhile, federal authorities in Florida have filed child-pornography charges against the alleged perpetrator in the lawsuit.
Samuel Shamba Warlick, 39, of Oviedo, Fla., was charged Jan. 14 with distributing and possessing images of child pornography, following an undercover computer sting conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A landmark report issued in October by a Presbyterian Church panel — documenting sexual and physical abuse of minors on the global mission field between 1950 and 1990 — identified Warlick by name. It said that as an older teenager in 1988, he allegedly abused younger teens at a mission boarding house in 1988 in Kinshasa, capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In December, Sean Coppedge of California sued the denomination in Jefferson Circuit Court, saying it failed to protect him and other youths when he was living at the boarding house.
The suit says Coppedge was sexually abused when he was 14, and that mission officials allowed Warlick to return to the house after a temporary removal even though they knew of the alleged assaults on Coppedge and another .
But in a motion to dismiss Coppedge’s suit filed on Tuesday, church lawyer Jon Fleischaker said Kentucky law bars lawsuits on child sexual abuse filed more than a year after the alleged victim turns 18 — which Coppedge did in 1992.
Kentucky law does allow certain exceptions to the statute of limitations — such as the victim being unaware of a cover-up of the abuse, as happened in a precedent-setting case involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in the 1990s
But the Presbyterian Church argued that such exceptions do not apply in the Coppedge suit.
The church’s brief cited a letter sent by Coppedge to the church in 2006, showing he was fully aware that he had been abused and charging church officials with failing to take action.
"Rather than the Presbyterian Church 'concealing' facts necessary to place Coppedge on notice of his putative claims, Coppedge helped bring to the attention of the (church panel on abuse) the issues about which he now complains," the church said.
The October report was issued by the denomination's Independent Abuse Review Panel, which documented 29 cases of sexual abuse of minors in Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia and Thailand and one case of physical abuse Pakistan. The commission said that in the Congo case, church officials failed to protect minors from a known danger.
The report followed one in 2002 documenting a separate case of alleged serial abuse by a missionary in the Congo.
The commission listed several recommendations to the church, including support for "changes in state laws for suspending statute of limitations."
"This is an area of advocacy where the PC(U.S.A.) can speak authoritatively from their own experience, over the last 10 years, of investigating and responding to reports of past abuse," the commission said. "The secular world needs to hear and understand this experience."
The denomination's General Assembly Mission Council has pledged a "prompt study and response" to this and other recommendations in the report, which have not yet come up for a vote.
But Ann Oldfather, one of the lawyers representing Coppedge, said the church's actions run counter to the recommendation.
"It's hypocritical for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to take the public position in the independent report and then have their lawyers use the statute of limitations to defend against their responsibility to a victim," she said.
The report said Warlick has since worked or spent time in numerous settings involving children, including two Presbyterian churches and a scout troop in Orlando, Fla., and camps in Georgia and the Congo.
His arrest followed an FBI undercover probe in which an agent infiltrated an Internet file-sharing network.
In an affidavit, special agent Rod Hyre found numerous photo and video files of prepubescent boys involved in sexual acts. FBI officials traced the files, got a search warrant for his home and allegedly located the images on Warlick’s computer.
In an interview with agents, Warlick "admitted that he had possessed child pornography for at least the past 10 years, and he estimated that he possessed between 50 and 100 gigabytes of child pornography," said Hyre's affidavit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
The affidavit said Warlick admitted to downloading and trading in child pornography.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests