Last week, some unusual news broke that the FBI is investigating clergy sex crimes, church corruption, and cover-ups in the New Orleans Archdiocese. Let us preface that it is highly uncommon for the Federal Bureau of Investigations to get involved in Catholic church crimes or lawsuits. So, when this does happen, we ask, why is this happening, and what should we take away from this compelling new development? We do know that a sprawling sex abuse investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans does specifically target predator priests who may have taken kids across state lines to molest them and were never reported to law enforcement.
It is reported that the FBI has interviewed more than a dozen alleged victims over the past year, including cases of alleged abuse during amusement park trips in Florida and Texas and camp outings in Mississippi, some of them going back decades. As part of the probe, the FBI is mulling whether to request access to thousands of church records that detail the abuse claims and reveal the church’s pattern of transferring predators to other dioceses instead of reporting them to cops. The documents, which were produced in civil sex abuse lawsuits against the church, are shielded by a confidentiality order that was brought after the New Orleans diocese declared bankruptcy following an avalanche of litigation. Most of those in law enforcement are closed-lipped about their investigations, especially the FBI. However, we at Horowitz Law have a theory as to why this investigation is in effect.
Our theory is that one or more survivors did not give up. He/she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. After being ignored or told, “It’s too late” or “nothing can be done,” they kept moving up the ladder, talking with one politician or prosecutor or police officer after another, until they finally found a receptive ear. That’s one of the most common ways we’ve seen progress in the many years of this sad affair: through the sheer determination of one or more survivors.
Here is what we know about clergy sex crimes, church corruption, and cover-ups in the New Orleans Archdiocese
Now, in 2022, one of the FBI’s regional field offices opened what one news outlet calls “a wide-ranging investigation” into the quiet moving of child molesting clerics in and out of the New Orleans Archdiocese. The regional FBI office in New Orleans is apparently seriously looking into the long-standing and inexcusable practice by top Catholic officials of transferring or letting known child molesters move across state borders, sometimes bringing their victims with them. Under the Mann Act – a 1910 law prohibiting the use of interstate commerce to transport women for “immoral purposes” that has no statute of limitations.
- One year after the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, claiming “growing financial strain” from litigation stemming from clergy abuse cases in addition to ongoing budget constraints, according to a press release.
- Six months after Louisiana became the 22nd state to implement a “lookback window” to restrict statutes of limitations from preventing victims of sexual abuse from coming forward for older cases.
- Four years after the Archdiocese of New Orleans named 57 “credibly accused” clergy, following a civil suit in October 2018.
- 37 years after a Louisiana serial child predator priest became the first in the US to attract nationwide attention.
- 20 years after US bishops adopted a national abuse policy.
Never Give Up, Please Try Again. It is the Survivors That Will Make a Difference
Now, about that second question: What’s the takeaway from this exciting new development?
We at Horowitz Law believe this too has a simple answer: Every person who has tried in the past to report known or suspected clergy sex crimes, church corruption, and cover-ups should absolutely try again. They should keep trying because children are precious. Because abuse is devastating. Because predators are relentless, and mainly because if they stay silent, little or nothing is ever achieved.
Keep in mind, that there is always a first–
- At one point, years ago, a bishop admitted, for the first time, that indeed, priests have molested kids.
- At one point, years ago, a grand jury began, for the first time, to investigate a diocese for ignoring or hiding clergy child sex crimes.
- At one point, years ago, a Catholic prelate, for the first time, had to resign for abusing a child.
- At one point, years ago, a prosecutor, for the first time, charged a high-ranking church official with protecting predators.
We could go on and on listing encouraging “first-ever” moves in this ongoing crisis that once was unheard of and once seemed unimaginable. But eventually, they finally happened.
Very likely, the impetus for each of these steps forward was just one or two or three courageous survivors, witnesses, or whistleblowers. We at Horowitz Law are far from naive. We know that tremendous obstacles remain. Yes, the Catholic church is the world’s oldest, largest and wealthiest monarchy. Yes, Catholic officials work hard to ingratiate themselves with the highest echelons of secular power. Yes, bishops have considerable connections and clout (though clearly far less than they did just a few short years ago).
Yes, speaking up about long-buried pain is risky. But all around us are signs that now more than ever, those risks have lessened. And the church hierarchy’s power is waning. And secular officials are noticing this. And they’re doing a better job of listening to survivors and taking action to stop more abuse.
And yes, despite your courage, at the end of the day, perhaps nothing can be done in terms of criminal prosecution. But all around us are signs that a better outcome is possible now more than ever. Police and prosecutors have learned a great deal over the past few years about institutional child sex crimes and cover-ups, even by the wealthy and powerful. And they’re showing more creativity and tenacity in pursuing the wrongdoers. (Think Jeffrey Epstein. And R. Kelly. And many others.)
So please, no matter how hard it may have been or how futile it may have seemed, if you once tried to report your abuse to anyone in law enforcement but saw no results – or worse, were rebuffed at the start please try again. Seize this moment. Try again. And keep trying if, at first it feels like no one’s listening.
Today, more than ever, your patience, persistence, and bravery may make a difference for you and others. If you have any information about clergy sex crimes, church corruption, and cover-ups in the New Orleans Archdiocese, now is the time to report it or call us.
Attorney Adam Horowitz represents children and adults who were victims of sexual abuse by a priest, minister, rabbi, deacon, nuns, or other clergy in civil lawsuits. If you or someone you know was a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault at a church or other religious organization, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to [email protected]