The Unfair Words of “Treating Survivors Fairly”

by | Dec 20, 2023 | Catholic Church

Catholic Bishops Sex Abuse Cover-ups Horowitz Law

‘Treating survivors fairly’ – is it just a PR slogan in a game of chess?

A phrase that’s been making rounds in the PR playbook of the US bishops is ‘treating all survivors fairly.’ It’s like the new hot word they just love to repeat. Especially when a Catholic official is pondering or seeking Chapter 11 protection, and there’s a looming lawsuit hanging over the head about clergy sex abuse and covering up, that’s the phrase they pull out from their word arsenal.

Well, here’s a thought bubble. What does fairness actually mean to them? We would like to ask every US bishop what exactly fairness means because we have never seen any Catholic official answer in any convincing way. For reference, here are a few recent quotes by a few US bishops:

Quotes by US Bishops

Connecticut Bishop Michael Cote: “The diocesan bankruptcy filing will “assure all survivors are included and treated fairly.” (2021)

New York Bishop Terry LaValley“A bankruptcy filing ‘establishes a process for all claims to be treated fairly.” (July 2023)

Delaware Bishop W. Francis Malooly“Chapter 11 proceedings will enable us to fairly compensate all victims.” (2009)

Rockville Centre diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan“The only reasonable path forward is to reach a global settlement through mediation that fairly compensates survivors.” (July 2023)

New Mexico Archbishop John C. Wester: “He decided to file for reorganization to ensure that all claims of child abuse survivors, including those who come forward in the future, can be settled ‘fairly and equitably.'” (2018)

Washington Bishop William Skylstad: “He took the extraordinary step of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect the religious mission of Eastern Washington Catholic churches and ensure each of the 125 victims is treated fairly.” (2004)

The pattern is clear as day; all the bishops seem hell-bent on singing the faith song of ‘treating all survivors fairly and equitably.’ But here’s a curveball: Why now, after decades of self-serving, secretive, irresponsible, and reckless infliction of harm on clergy sex abuse survivors, NOW Catholic officials would have us believe that they’ve all done a complete 180-degree turn-around? This question is raised by the constant repetition of this purported church goal – treating all survivors ‘fairly and equitably’ is this: For decades, bishops and their peers and their predecessors and their underlings have fought survivors tooth-and-nail, exploiting legal technicalities like the statute of limitations and lobbying against reforms that let ANY and ALL survivors file lawsuits. For decades, these guardians of faith have battled against survivors at every step, hid behind technical legal jargon like the statute of limitations, and lobbied relentlessly to prevent reforms.

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine the church as a ‘Kingdom,’ the boundaries separating the rich and poor. On one side, survivors, with their hearts and lives torn apart, manage to secure six to seven-figure settlements. And just across the invisible boundary, survivors with equally poignant stories hardly get a handful of change. Yet, that’s what they call consistency.

Here comes the punchline–now, after all these years, they expect us to believe they’ve all learnt their lesson and set out to right the wrongs? Decade after decade, the church hierarchy has treated abuse victims NOT ‘fairly and equitably’ but in whatever way they feel like it, with whatever little crumbs of justice they feel they can get by with offering. But now, all of that has allegedly been reversed? I don’t know about you, my friend, but we have difficulty swallowing that nugget.

Why the sudden change of heart?

The ‘big’ change isn’t as big as it seems when you pull back the curtain. The only change? Most bishops got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, ignoring and enabling the vilest crimes against innocent souls. It’s like a band-aid move to cover up an infected wound, and their behavior is changing only due to the ugly truth being exposed. Nearly every US bishop has been caught and exposed, ignoring, hiding, or enabling heinous crimes against vulnerable, innocent children. That’s what’s changed. And to the degree that your behavior has changed, it’s largely – or perhaps only – because they’ve been getting caught. And speaking of ‘fair’ treatment, allow us to ask a few more questions.

What is ‘fair’ in the bishop’s book?

If they’re familiar with the word ‘fair,’ I’d love to understand how they explain these:

  • Is it fair that some states provide for ‘delayed discovery,’ enabling child sex abuse lawsuits to be filed years down the road if the victim only learned recently that the abuse caused or is causing current harm to them as adults?
  • Is it fair when victims, who’ve only recently connected the dots, are given higher settlements than those who’ve been living with the pain?
  • Is it fair that in some dioceses, bishops let known or suspected predator priests file slander and libel lawsuits against their victims?
  • Is it fair when bishops force victims who lost, not on merit but due to technicalities, to shell out money to cover legal costs?
  • And how about bishops setting up ‘compensation programs’ with strict deadlines, forcing victims to tell their tales before they’re ready, just to beat potential legal reforms?

The Ugly Truth & Our Real Reality

Here’s a side-splitting reality: the motivation behind these compensation programs seems to be nothing more than a pre-emptive move against legal reform. In states where lawmakers are weighing a suspension of the statute of limitations – enabling far more victims to file lawsuits – church officials begin to give money to victims, essentially a smoke signal to legislators saying, “You need not take action. We’re fixing this problem ourselves.”

But the ugly truth is that survivors have been given a raw deal by the Catholic hierarchy and have never been “treated fairly.” Their wounds have been salted with an unjust treatment that’s showing no signs of changing. For survivors, the only beacon of hope comes from the courts, where the influences of church officials take a backseat, and the authenticity of the survivors’ experiences comes to the forefront.

In the end, the best shot at being treated fairly for survivors comes, and will always come, not from the bishops’ hollow PR phrases but from the civil courtrooms that echo with the voices of the truth. After all, nothing feels better than a good, old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness justice served right!

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 today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.