US Catholic abuse victims plan to beat the Vatican to a pulpit
Five Americans have filed a lawsuit against the church to get it to provide the names of abusive clergy
Five Americans who say they were sexually molested by Catholic priests filed a lawsuit against the Vatican on Tuesday to compel the church to open its archives and hand over the names and details of abusive clergy.
The plaintiffs “were harmed as a result of the Defendant Holy See’s practice and policy of not reporting suspected child abuse to law enforcement officials”, stated the lawsuit filed in US federal court in the state of Minnesota.
“Holy See’s practices of retaining, hiding and concealing evidence of crimes of its agents and former agents have endangered numerous children and continues to put children in peril,” it added.
Stephen Hoffman, one of three brothers who are plaintiffs for the case, said at a press conference the suit’s intention was to “let something like this never happen anymore”.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I and my brothers went through ... I just want the Vatican to do what’s right,” he said.
Hoffman and his brothers, Luke and Benedict, say they were molested by Curtis Wehmeyer, a Catholic priest arrested in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison after the siblings’ mother reported the case, sparking a scandal that caused the resignation of an archbishop in 2015.
Another plaintiff, 51-year-old Jim Keenan, said he was assaulted throughout the 1970s by a priest whose actions were documented in secret by the church.
“I come forward today to sue the pope and the Vatican because it needs to stop. They are not above us,” he told reporters.
The fifth plaintiff, Manuel Vega, said he was one of 30 victims of a Mexican priest he believes returned to his home country after being accused of abuse in the US.
“He is nowhere to be found,” the 53-year-old said. “From what I heard, he is somewhere in Mexico or in Spain, still practising, still dangerous.”
The lawsuit comes after Pope Francis announced this month that every Catholic diocese would have to come up with a plan for reporting abuse, a measure expected to bring countless new cases of molestation to light.
The Catholic Church is struggling to deal with a global epidemic of sexual assault by priests, in particular of minors. Much of the abuse has gone on for decades.
Six Catholic dioceses in the US rolled out a “compensation programme” Tuesday as an alternative to court proceedings for minors sexually abused by clergy.
The programme by the dioceses, all of which are in California, will be managed by two independent monitors who have handled similar programmes in New York and Pennsylvania, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez said in a letter to worshipers.
“We are joining with five other dioceses in California in a new initiative to provide pastoral care and financial support to any person who has been sexually abused as a minor by a diocesan priest,” Gomez wrote.
“We also understand that some victim-survivors are reluctant to come to the church for assistance. Our hope with this new programme is to give these people a chance to seek redress and healing through an independent programme.”
According to California church officials, the programme will be open to anybody who was abused by a priest as a minor, including people residing in the US illegally and those for whom the statute of limitations to prosecute their abuser has expired.
No lawyer will be necessary, and the process will be free and conducted in a “non-adversarial” manner that respects victims’ privacy, according to the letter.
The six dioceses involved in the programme represent about 10 million Catholics in California, many of whom have origins in Latin America, where the church is particularly strong.
The programme’s announcement came the same day that the five molestation victims filed a lawsuit asking a judge to compel the Vatican to release details of abusive priests.