Bishops ‘Treating Sexual Abuse Survivors Fairly’ – Just a PR Slogan?

by | Jan 25, 2024 | Catholic Church

Do Bishops Treat Sexual Abuse Survivors Fairly Horowitz Law

Riding on the wave of public outrage, the phrase ‘treating all survivors fairly’ has quickly become the go-to tagline in the US Catholic Church’s PR playbook. We seem to hear it all the time, especially when a Catholic official is weighing or seeking Chapter 11 protection in the face of potentially startling disclosures about clergy sex abuse and coverups that would likely come through civil lawsuits. This raises an interesting question we’d like to ask every US bishop, one that we’ve never seen any Catholic official answer in any convincing way. Note:  Deadlines for diocesan bankruptcies are approaching soon in Maryland and northern California.

High-Profile Church Authorities Emphasis on ‘Fair Treatment’

Given the frequency of the statement, it is essential to revisit some of the quotes from prominent Catholic figures:

  • Connecticut Bishop Michael Cote in 2021: The diocesan bankruptcy filing will “assure all survivors are included and treated fairly.”
  • Delaware Bishop W. Francis Malooly in 2009: “Chapter 11 proceedings will enable us to fairly compensate all victims.”
  • Rockville Centre diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan in July 2023: “The only reasonable path forward is to reach a global settlement through mediation that fairly compensates survivors.”
  • New Mexico Archbishop John C. Wester in 2018: 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.’
  • Washington Bishop William Skylstad in 2004: 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.”

This constant reiteration across the spectrum of the Catholic hierarchy calls for a legitimate question requiring a convincing explanation.

The Hypothetical Question Every Bishop Needs to Answer

Has the Church indeed taken a complete 180-degree turn-around after decades of suffering it has inflicted on the sexual abuse survivors? For decades, religious leaders have fought survivors, exploiting legal loopholes like the statute of limitations and lobbying against reformations that allow survivors to file lawsuits. In this disparity, victims on one side of a boundary could win six and seven-figure compensations, while those on the other side would receive almost nothing. Why the supposed change NOW? While we’d love to hear how church officials might answer this, in truth, the answer is already pretty clear.

The apparent answer: They have been publicly caught and exposed.

The Hard Reality

It took loads of lawsuits, media exposés, whistleblowers, prosecutions, advocates, and, above all, the brave victims to bring the bishops’ behavior into the spotlight. Their behavior has changed only in response to continuous external pressure from these sources- confirming the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and never will.”

In other words, the powerful act differently when they’re forced to do so. It almost always requires external pressure. Let’s face it: abuse survivors have never been treated fairly by the Catholic hierarchy and aren’t being treated reasonably now and won’t be treated fairly in the future.’

Hope for the Future

The bishops’ past behavior doesn’t guarantee fair treatment for abuse survivors in the future. But there’s progress, credit to which goes to various entities such as police, lawmakers, judges, journalists, and most importantly, the brave victims who said “No more!” to such horror.

These survivors’ best shot at justice, past, present, or future, remains in the civil courts. They may be slow, and the powerful may continue to have an edge, but the civil justice system is at least transparent and time-tested. It has worked and is working for thousands and thousands of men and women who are suffering because of childhood trauma.

Often, it’s also the very best way of exposing the truth. Most survivors we’ve worked with feel strongly that it’s long overdue brings healing and prevents future pain to others. It’s worth picking up the phone and talking with an experienced professional about this option.

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.