Tag: children sex abuse

Clergy Sex Abuse and Cover-up Horowitz Law

An Often-Ignored Cause of the Clergy Sex Abuse and Cover-up Crisis

Tons of ink has been spilled theorizing and pontificating on the causes of the Catholic church’s seemingly endless clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis. Some of this analysis is silly. In 2002, for instance, Pennsylvania GOP Senator Rick Santorum blamed the then-just-emerging scandal on Massachusetts ‘liberal’ mindset or values. Some of this analysis is true, to a degree, but misses the more complex ‘big picture.’ Many put far too much emphasis on gay clerics or the priestly celibacy requirement. Both are relevant; neither is the crux of the crisis. Other notions about the causes of the clergy sex abuse crisis get short shrift. 

We at Horowitz Law, for example, believe that the church’s rigid, all-male hierarchical and monarchical structure plays a considerable role in the abuse itself and the cover-up. But one undeniable cause of the crisis is rarely mentioned. In a word, it’s arroganceSpecifically, it’s the arrogance of many of the so-called “Princes of the Church,” the cardinals, bishops, and other top officials who have extraordinary decision-making power and are rarely held accountable for how they exercise their power. A recent story out of California is a particularly striking example of the hubris of a particularly corrupt and callous member of the church hierarchy, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles

You may recall reading about Mahony. He was the first sitting US Catholic bishop to testify at a predator priest’s civil abuse trial, Fr. Oliver O’Grady of Stockton, California. (O’Grady was later found criminally guilty of child sex crimes, imprisoned, deported to his native Ireland and profiled in a chilling, award-winning documentary called “Deliver Us From Evil.”) When that trial ended in 1998 (with a $30 million award to two of O’Grady’s victims), the jury foreman told reporters that neither he nor his colleagues believed a word of Mahony’s testimony. Since then, Mahony’s awful behavior in clergy sex abuse and cover-up cases got even worse. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. Consider the view of The Pillar, a conservative Catholic website:

“Mahony has a record dating back to 1980 of mishandling allegations of clerical sexual abuse, in some cases rather brazenly. Memos and letters paint a picture of a cardinal far more concerned with institutional self-protection and maybe with career advancement than with the protection of vulnerable children.”

The cardinal has issued a few tepid apologies over the years, but there’s a sense among many LA Catholics that his handling of sexual abuse cases was especially egregious. It caused untold harm to children and families, cost the diocese millions, and has had severe consequences for many people — though none of them are actually named Roger Mahony. But despite all that, Mahony – now 86 – never seems to display an instinct for laying low or maintaining a discreet profile. And a recent letter from the cardinal might take the cake.

Finally, in 2013, Mahony’s successor stripped him “of any administrative and public church duties,” calling his actions “terribly sad and evil.” Around that time, one California newspaper columnist wrote, “Mahony, as much as anyone living, has helped sap the Roman Catholic Church of its moral authority. He’ll probably cost it a billion dollars before the civil trials are through.” That same columnist continued, “Appallingly, Mahony remains in good standing in the church. He is neither locked up nor defrocked. Until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, he remained one of the most powerful men in the church.” So, why was Mahony the subject of a recent news story if he had been retired for several years and primarily out of the public eye? Last month, Mahony wrote to hundreds of LA area priests, indicating that he’d be more than delighted to send a signed copy of his expensive new portrait to any Archdiocesan priest who requests one. The retired cardinal explains that in the photo, he’s “holding a basket of loaves,” which is meant to harmonize with the call of Pope Francis for us to be humbler.

You read that right: Mahony wrote to a couple of hundred LA clerics to offer them his new “humbler” portrait. (He also acknowledged that he’d already sent – unsolicited – “a signed an 8 x 10 copy” of the photo to all the archdiocesan priests he had ordained over the years.)

Incredible. Where does this kind of arrogance come from? Well, imagine what it must be like to be a Catholic prelate. Imagine what it might do to you if you were constantly called – by underlings, followers, and even some secular officials, “your eminence,” “your grace,” or “your excellency.” Imagine what it might do to you if grown-ups approached you and asked if they could kiss your ring. Imagine if you knew that you had a lofty title and an excellent job for the rest of your life. Imagine if you had someone to cook your meals, do your laundry, chauffeur you around, and be your own personal legal and public relations expert. That’s the life of many Catholic prelates. How could you NOT become at least somewhat arrogant? They genuinely believe they are superior human beings and live by their own rules and standards. And how could your arrogance NOT impact your confidence in your own judgment and actions? 

We at Horowitz Law have come to the sad conclusion that arrogance rarely reigns itself in. Arrogance must be contained. Thankfully, the laws of this country, coupled with the courage of those who suffer from the arrogance of others, can help control the behaviors. If you’ve been hurt or abused, thanks to the arrogant behavior of a Catholic official, you can get help. We can help.

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.

 

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.