Tag: Catholic Church abuse

Child Sexual Assault in the Church Horowitz Law

One Step Forward, One Step Back In the Battle to Stop Child Sexual Assault in the Church

One step forward, one step back, that’s how it sometimes feels in the battle to stop child sexual assault in the church. Unfortunately, Horowitz Law has witnessed that steps forward are often taken by those OUTSIDE church hierarchies (victims, police, prosecutors, lawmakers, attorneys, whistleblowers). The steps backward are often taken by those INSIDE church hierarchies. Such was the case last week in New England. We read encouraging stories about a positive ruling by the top court in Massachusetts. We also read discouraging stories about an accused Maine priest being supposedly ‘cleared’ by his Catholic supervisors.

Backward Steps in the Battle to Stop Child Sexual Assault in the Church

In July 2021, the Portland, Maine Diocese put Fr. Robert C. Vaillancourt on leave when he was accused of sexually abusing a girl in the 1980s. In 2021, a second alleged victim came forward. Last month, Maine Bishop Robert Dailey, through spokespeople and lawyers, claimed the abuse reports against Fr. Vaillancourt were “unfounded,” and the priest was immediately put back on the job.

But let’s keep in mind a few facts that suggest that Dailey could be wrong.

Fr. Vaillancourt faces two accusers. The odds of a mistaken or false allegation go down dramatically when a second person makes another abuse report. The alleged victims are female. Statistics show that more often, it’s women (more than men) whose reports of sexual violence are disbelieved. One of the victims is represented by an attorney, which increases the chance of her credibility. The other did a credible interview with a local television station.

In the late 1980s, Fr. Vaillancourt was involved in Diocesan Youth Ministry. He was also in charge of youth ministry at St. Andre’s in Biddeford. It is common for child predators to gravitate towards jobs that put them around children. The same goes for priests that work as the diocesan director of the Office of Vocations and the youth ministry at different times. Of course, most men in these posts are not predators., but history, psychology, and common sense all tell us that many predators gravitate to these kinds of jobs because they provide access to kids.

In 2002, Fr. Vaillancourt led the Maine delegation to World Youth Day in Toronto. On that trip, 350 young people and their chaperones went to see the Pope. He may have been given this assignment, as opposed to seeking it out, but again, this is a troubling sign. It is common for men who are sexually attracted to youngsters to take them on out-of-town trips. Fr. Vaillancourt also worked as a chaplain at two Portland hospitals. We acknowledge that the vast majority of clerics who are chaplains are not abusers. But it’s also true that bishops often transferred proven and admitted, credibly-accused child molesting clerics from parish ministry to hospital ministry.

If other abuse reports surfaced later, a bishop could claim that he was unsure if the priest had molested and transferred the priest to a position with closer supervision. If parents were upset about abuse allegations, a bishop could say that they couldn’t substantiate the charges, but out of an abundance of caution, they took him out of his parish. People make mistakes, of course, and memories are not perfect. There have been false allegations of clergy sexual abuse, although very few. Most often, they are unintentional, caused by similarities in priests’ names, nicknames, or physical appearances. So, Fr. Vaillancourt could be innocent. He could also not be.

We at Horowitz Law would not be surprised if Catholic officials erred in the direction of saving a cleric instead of a child. We won’t be shocked if others come forward with knowledge or suspicions of wrongdoing by Fr. Vaillancourt.

Steps Moving Forward in the Battle to Stop Child Sexual Assault in the Church

The top judicial body in Massachusetts, AKA, the Superior Court, just ruled that a child sex abuse and cover-up case against a retired bishop can proceed. Lawyers for the Springfield, MA diocese argued that the case should be tossed because of a law called ‘charitable immunity.’ A lower court judge had ruled that charitable immunity “does not protect” the diocese from the lawsuit related to sexual assaults by Bishop Christopher Weldon and other priests “as these allegations do not involve conduct related to a charitable mission.” 

This is actually the second legal victory for Weldon’s alleged victim. Earlier, a judge said no when lawyers for the diocese wanted to delay the case, saying the plaintiff “has a right to expeditious resolution of his case.”

We at Horowitz Law often point out that lawmakers across the US and worldwide are increasingly becoming more sensitive to the needs of abuse victims. They’re passing laws that give survivors of childhood trauma more time to gain strength and report those who have hurt them.

But judges are also becoming more sensitive to the needs of survivors. After all, judges are human too. They have read and seen the articles, news shows, documentaries, and testimonies before legislative panels that the rest of us have seen. It’s tough for anyone in any position to learn about this widespread, devastating, and ongoing pain to children and not be moved. And when there are gray areas in the law, judges are more often siding with survivors and their advocates whenever possible. This is just speculation, but we strongly suspect that five or ten and certainly 20 years ago, a judge might have ruled differently in this Massachusetts case. 

All of us at Horowitz Law are optimistic about the future and even the present. We recognize that much work needs to be done to protect children, heal victims, and prevent cover-ups. But instead of standing totally on the sidelines or taking the side of predators and enablers, judges and other government officials are coming around to see our point of view and making it more possible and less risky for victims to seek remedies in court. Our society will only benefit from this trend.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at (888) 283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.


Pope Francis' Apology Tour Horowitz Law

Judging a Papal Apology – Actions Do Speak Louder Than Words

When judging a Papal apology, sincerity and follow-up are key. Pope Francis has gotten wall-to-wall news coverage with what’s been called his ‘apology tour‘ in Canada. Francis stated, “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples.” But apologies come in all shapes and sizes, and many people have been chiming in that he failed to offer a concrete way forward and next steps. Here are our two cents on what makes a good apology versus a bad one and what an apology tells us about the individual or institution that makes one.

Our first question is, “why is the pontiff expressing sorrow?” Could it be because of the church’s role in the “notorious” residential schools, which were designed to erase Indigenous culture and language by forcibly separating roughly 150,000 children from their families, where thousands of Indigenous children died, and countless others were sexually and physically abused?

Let that last part sink in: “where thousands of Indigenous children died, and countless others were sexually and physically abused.” According to a NY Times article, about a year ago, at the site of just one school, an analysis of ground-penetrating radar scans found evidence consistent with the testimony of former students that hundreds of students were buried in unmarked graves on school grounds.

So it’s pretty clear that Francis has plenty to apologize for. 

Here are five questions to ask when evaluating any apology:

Not surprisingly, Pope Francis, like bishops worldwide, especially in the US, has earned a failing grade this week.

      1. Is the apology clear? Francis, like his underlings, deliberately uses vague language, going so far as to not even mention the word “abuse.” “Roddy Gould Jr., chief of Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort, said Pope Francis’s words were too vague and seemed unconnected to the hurt and trauma caused by the residential school system,” reported the Canadian Broadcast CompanyAnother Indigenous survivor of these horrific abuses said, “You can’t dance around the, you know, bypass the truth and go right to reconciliation . . .” These actions are, of course, consistent with the apologies of many Catholic officials, high and low. All too often, they get all hazy and refuse to use common terms used by the public, instead tossing around opaque church phrases that ‘soften the blow’ that plain, clear words would cause. One of the most memorable examples of this comes from the now-retired cardinal who headed the New York Archdiocese for ages, Edward Egan. Egan stated, “If in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”
      2. Is the apology prompt? Again, the Pope fails on this score too. For decades, church and governmental authorities have known of this widespread, preventable, and egregious wrongdoing. In fact, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada first sought an apology from Pope Benedict XVI during a Vatican meeting 13 years ago. It’s hard to get excited about an apology or consider it sincere when it comes after years and years of begging.
      3. Is the apology forced or voluntary? In a technical sense, since Francis is the undisputed head of a global monarchy, no one can force him to do anything. However, the truth is that sometimes even monarchs feel compelled to respond to public pressure, media firestorms, and widespread discontent by their subjects. Sadly, however, in clergy sex abuse and cover-up cases, the level of shock, shame, and damage that must be done and exposed to prod Catholic officials to finally act is shocking.
      4. Does action follow it? If the past is any indication, we at Horowitz Law would be shocked if Pope Francis, in the days, weeks, and months to come, lays out a concrete plan to provide real help for vulnerable kids or wounded adults. Years ago, Canadian church officials promised to pay victims $25 million in restitution. To date, they have paid just 1.2 million Canadian dollars. Gould said, “The Catholic Church has accommodated and changed things in its church service to accommodate and keep its clientele. And that’s what I saw. I saw the largest political organization in the world make a vague, very articulated statement, not out of accountability, but to appease its base.”
      5. Does the apology come before or after wrongdoing is exposed? We’ve all heard apologies of both types: those offered AFTER someone else, not the wrongdoer, has revealed the bad behavior, and those offered BEFORE or WHILE the bad behavior is disclosed. We’d likely all agree that the ‘BEFORE’ and ‘WHILE’ apologies are always more genuine and, therefore, more healing. Suppose you’ve followed the church’s ongoing, decades-old, still-flourishing clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis. In that case, you know that it’s exceptionally rare for a bishop or a Vatican bureaucrat to share news of a scandal and apologize for it BEFORE it hits the media.

In summary, we at Horowitz Law understand – and are glad – that some feel good about what Francis said in Canada this week. Those who suffer should, of course, get some comfort and consolation. But his words could and should have come sooner, been more explicit, and led to significant tangible help, not temporary emotional solace.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us at (888) 283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Colorado and nationwide. We can help.


Disturbing Trends Found in the Catholic Church

Red Flags and Disturbing Trends Found in the Catholic Church

Last year, an article about a small, obscure Catholic monastery overseas was released that disclosed numerous red flags and disturbing trends found in the Catholic church that are still happening. Although a year old, we would like to draw attention to it now for two reasons.

The first reason is that this article contains a shockingly thorough list of ‘red flags’ and disturbing trends found in the Catholic church. It highlights descriptions of very troubling behaviors that could almost serve as a ‘checklist’ for those who wonder, “Is what my boss/pastor/counselor doing appropriate?”

This article is also an example of a troubling trend in some religions, the growth of ‘independent’ churches headed by charismatic individuals that operate with fewer constraints and thus are even more likely to attract and coddle child molesters.

Regarding the ‘red flags,’ according to this article, a young man who wanted to become a priest felt manipulated, anxious, depressed, and harassed while “locked” in this weird emotional thing with his alleged abuser.

Allegedly he wasn’t allowed to go to the doctor, was urged to take psychiatric medication (by his boss), ‘broke down weeping,’ and ‘has been ostracized. He also reportedly saw ‘inappropriate guests’ at the monastery where both men lived, as well as financial mismanagement and inappropriate personal disclosures. His boss reportedly was highly flattering, personally charismatic, and dynamic. He was good at inspiring trust and frequently gossiped to (others) spiritual direction. He seemed to act possessive toward the alleged victim.

Let’s be clear. If you saw a person, especially a boss, exhibit one or two of these behaviors, you’d rightfully think, “That’s odd” or “That’s creepy,” even though laws were not technically broken.

But imagine that your supervisor did all – or even most – of these things. One act, however awkward or uncomfortable it may make you, could be chalked up to an anomaly. But repeatedly disturbing actions by a boss should immediately prompt an investigation and maybe some kind of disciplinary moves. This article showcases even more ‘red flags’ than we’ve listed here. There should really be a pocket-sized checklist that could be laminated and provided to every employee of youth-serving institutions.

More Disturbing Trends Found in the Catholic Church

The second point of this article is that the growth of new, ‘independent’ churches and religious groups that are NOT part of larger, established, mainstream religious bodies is troubling. A Catholic journalist summarizes the entire sordid story laid up above “is a lesson about what can happen when a charismatic founder is imbued with spiritual authority but with little supervision or oversight.” 

The proliferation of small, purportedly, and partially independent religious institutes or religious orders often headed by a charismatic official translates into even less ‘supervision or oversight’ than one typically finds in a diocese or conventional denomination. Who benefits from this lessened oversight? And who might be drawn to become part of one of these smaller, newer, less conventional, and more ego-dominated religious groups? Men who want to abuse power. 

The good news here is that in the legal realm, despite their reduced supervision and their claims to be independent, many times, these entities can still be held responsible for child sex crimes committed by their members or officials.

So if you’ve seen, suspected, or suffered abuse in one of these religious institutes or orders, do NOT assume you are without legal options. You owe it to yourself and others to report these crimes and check with an experienced attorney who can best explain what remedies you may have.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at (888) 283-9922 or adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.