As victims and the church debate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' new child sexual abuse policy, civil litigators are looking at how the policy will affect the church's liability. Legal experts say that while the new policy will not affect criminal cases, it will likely have an impact on the church's civil liability because it represents an effort to keep abusive priests away from children. How much the church's liability in the hundreds of lawsuits it is facing will be affected, though, remains to be seen. Will the new policy shield bishops and the church from abuse that took place in the past? How will the policy affect current lawsuits? Will the policy limit the church's liability in future cases of abuse, or has it opened it up to more exposure because priests will not be automatically defrocked? Why it matters
What the Roman Catholic Church pays out in civil judgments and settlements will affect the future of the church, which has great opportunities for growth as the number of Hispanics in this country surges. At stake is the church's ability to build new schools and churches, attract clergy, and finance social services. The success of the bishops' new policy may also influence how other denominations - most of which have also dealt with sexual crimes - deal with cases of abuse.
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• Business Week magazine ran an extensive package in its April 15 issue about the financial structure and operation of the Catholic Church.
• Read a New York Times article about how the lawsuits are affecting the church financially.
A review by the Associated Press recently found:
• At least 300 civil lawsuits alleging clerical sex abuse have been filed in 16 states since January.
• Almost 250 of the nation's more than 46,000 Roman Catholic priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the scandal began in January.
• Dioceses in Kentucky face the most lawsuits at 122.
• At least 73 suits have been filed in Massachusetts.
• At least 25 additional lawsuits have been filed in California.
• Another 41 claims have been made in New Hampshire.
• The Diocese of Providence, R.I. has no new cases but is a defendant in 38 old suits.
• Wisconsin has no recent claims, but a suit filed this year in California named the Milwaukee Archdiocese as a defendant.
• Estimates of what the church has paid out since the first major scandals broke in the 1980s range from about $300 million to $1 billion.
The "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," drafted on June 14, 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, mandates:
• That for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor-past, present, or future-the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry. An offending priest or deacon will be offered professional assistance for his own healing and well-being, as well as for the purpose of prevention.
• In every case, the processes provided for in canon law must be observed, and the various provisions of canon law must be considered. These provisions may include a request by the priest or deacon for dispensation from the obligation of holy orders and the loss of the clerical state, or a request by the bishop for dismissal from the clerical state even without the consent of the priest or deacon. For the sake of due process, the accused is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the diocese/eparchy will supply canonical counsel to a priest or deacon.
• If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender is to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.
The policy falls short of an original recommendation by the group's ad hoc committee to automatically defrock any priests who are proved to have committed child sexual abuse. However, it does remove the "one-strike" provision for priests who have been accused in the past. In addition, under the new policy, a lay advisory board can recommend that offending priests be defrocked. Victims groups say the new policy does not go far enough because it does not call for the automatic defrocking of priests, nor does it assign any blame or responsibility to bishops who moved abusive priests from parish to parish.
• Read the opening statement by Bishop Wilton Gregory on June 14 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
• Read the presidential address given on June 13 by Bishop Wilton Gregory.
• Read "Bishops Only Went Halfway," a response to the bishops' new policy from Call to Action, a grassroots Catholic reform organization with 25,000 lay, religious, priests, and bishop members.
• Read an article on child sexual abuse and Church liability drawn up by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
• Read a Washington Post analysis of the new policy.
• Read a Washington Post article on the adoption of the policy and reaction.
• Read a New York Times analysis on public opinion and bishops' new policy.
• Read a Christian Science Monitor article on how victims are suing the Catholic Church at a higher level than priests.
• Read a CBSnews.com article on how more alleged sexual abuse victims are hiring lawyers.
• Laurence E. Hardoon is a civil attorney and former prosecutor specializing in child abuse cases in Boston. He says the new policy from the bishops will not limit the Church's liability in any past cases of abuse. The new policy will only limit the Church's exposure for any new cases of sexual abuse, but by how much remains to be seen. He says that a zero tolerance policy in which a priest is automatically defrocked would provide much more liability protection for the Church. However, the bishop's plan to remove from the active ministry any priest who molests and not automatically defrock them might actually expand the Church's exposure if the priest molests another child. Contact 617-880-7100.
• Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is editor-in-chief of "America" magazine, a national Catholic weekly. Reese says the automatic defrocking provision was dropped because the process can be too cumbersome and would slow down a diocese's ability to quickly move a priest away from the public. In addition, he says removing the automatic defrocking provision would likely increase the policy's chances of being approved by the Vatican. Contact 212-515-0105, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Victor Veith, director, Allison Turkel, senior attorney, the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, which is part of the American Prosecutors Research Institute in Alexandria, Va. They agree that the bishop's new policy will not limit the Church's exposure in past cases and will only have an impact on future cases. Both say that the main obstacle to the Church formulating a policy that will satisfy victims is the Church's attempt to try to combine the legal and Christian moral aspects of punishment and forgiveness. Contact 703-549-4253.
• Raymond Flynn is the chairman of the Catholic Alliance, former mayor of Boston and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Contact 202-544-9600, email@example.com.
• U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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• Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has local chapters around the country.
• Call to Action is a grassroots Catholic reform movement with chapters across the country.
• The Linkup is an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by priests.
In the MidwestIn the Northeast
• Attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., has filed more than 400 cases against the Catholic Church on behalf of clients who say priests have sexually abused them. Anderson is with the Reinhardt & Anderson law firm www.ralawfirm.com. Contact 651-227-9990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Patrick J. Schiltz of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., has defended dioceses against hundreds of abuse claims. Contact 651-962-4896, email@example.com.
• Michael K. Allen is the chief prosecutor in Hamilton County, Ohio. He is prosecuting cases against priests in the Cincinnati area. Contact 513-946-3000, MikeAllen@prosecutor.hamilton-co.org.
• Mitchell Garabedian is a civil attorney in Boston and is representing dozens of plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits against the Boston Archdiocese. Contact 617-523-6250.
• Roderick MacLeish, Jr., is a civil attorney in Boston. Like Garabedian, he is representing dozens of people who have filed sexual abuse claims against the Boston Archdiocese. Contact 617-310-6014, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Anthony J. Sebok is a professor at Brooklyn Law School. He has written an article on how civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church regarding the sex abuse scandal will likely play out in the courts. Contact 718 780-7551, email@example.com.
• Stephanie Anderson is the Cumberland County, Maine District Attorney. She is prosecuting many of the criminal cases against alleged pedophile priests in Maine. Contact 207-871-8384 or see her website.
• Susan K. Smith is a civil lawyer in Hartford, Conn., who is representing many alleged priest sexual abuse victims. Contact 860-297-0035, or see her website.
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