The California Catholic Conference (CCC) and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles say a new lawsuit filed against the bishops of California is based on cases that are many years old and does not reflect the current practices in place in California dioceses.
Jeff Anderson and Associates announced in an Oct. 2 press conference that it had filed a “nuisance lawsuit” against the California Catholic Conference and 11 of California’s 12 dioceses, including Los Angeles, and also the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The civil suit, filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, claims the Church has covered up cases of child sexual abuse by priests. It asks that the court “to abate the continuing nuisance” of abuse by compelling the dioceses to release the names and files of every clergy member accused of sexual misconduct.
But in separate statements, the California Conference and the Los Angeles Archdiocese both pointed out that the lawsuit is based on old cases and information that has long been known to the public.
“The Archdiocese has acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures and mistakes in the way abuse cases were handled in the past and instituted a strict “zero tolerance” policy to ensure that allegations of abuse would be reported to authorities and that anyone found to have committed abuse — whether a priest, deacon, religious or lay person — would be held accountable and permanently removed from ministry in the Archdiocese,” the archdiocese said.
The California Conference also pointed out that “none of the information provided describes the positive steps taken by California dioceses over the past 15 years to protect children and young people from abuse.”
In a recent interview, widely quoted sex abuse expert and Duquesne Law School dean emeritus Nick Cafardi told Angelus News he’s seen a largely positive before-and-after story since the implementation of the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Young People in dioceses around the nation.
“From Dallas onward, we treated victims with a lot more respect than before,” said Cafardi. “Before Dallas, the priests were favored [in accusations] against their accusers. Dallas changed that.”
Richard “Skip” Byrne, a Catholic with with decades of experience as a judge in Los Angeles, told Angelus he believes the Church does a far better job of disciplining misconduct within its ranks than other institutions, such as local police departments.
“I think that the Archdiocese of LA is a model for the country, and even the world,” said the parishioner of Christ the King Church in Hancock Park and former chair of the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board for the Archdiocese.
“You don’t find this kind of thing happening in Los Angeles.”
Below are the full statements from both the CCC and the Archdiocese.
Full statement from California Catholic Conference
We have not had more than a brief opportunity to review the lawsuit filed this morning by Mr. Anderson, but two things stand out. First, it appears that all of the information provided in the news conference this morning came from public sources and has been available for years; and, second, that none of the information provided describes the positive steps taken by California dioceses over the past 15 years to protect children and young people from abuse.
In 2003, all dioceses in California began implementing the reforms called out in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops the year before.
Every diocese in California has instituted fingerprinting and background checks for priests, staff and any volunteers working around children and young people. All of them offer Safe Environment programs to train students and staff in identifying and preventing abuse. Every diocese has adopted a “zero tolerance” standard to make sure no one with a credible accusation of abusing children is allowed to function as a priest and all dioceses have an Independent Review Board, primarily consisting of lay persons, to advise bishops on whether or not an accused priest would be allowed to return to ministry.
Over the course of the last 15 years, millions of students in Catholic Schools and religious education have gone through training, along with hundreds of thousands of staff and volunteers. Tens of thousands more have been fingerprinted and background checked.
Statement from Archdiocese of Los Angeles
The Archdiocese has not been served with the lawsuit. However, the complaint and report presented by Jeff Anderson today is based on information which was made public by the Archdiocese in 2013 with the release of the Archdiocese’s clergy files associated with the 2007 global settlement as well as the 2004 Report to the People of God and other information released and publicly available for over a decade. The Archdiocese has also cooperated in three grand jury investigations in our efforts to be forthcoming and cooperate with law enforcement on matters of abuse. The clergy files and other information can be found at http://clergyfiles.la-archdiocese.org/listing.html.
The Archdiocese has acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures and mistakes in the way abuse cases were handled in the past and instituted a strict “zero tolerance” policy to ensure that allegations of abuse would be reported to authorities and that anyone found to have committed abuse — whether a priest, deacon, religious or lay person — would be held accountable and permanently removed from ministry in the Archdiocese.
The Archdiocese has also instituted abuse prevention and reporting programs for adults and minors; fingerprinting and background checks for employees and volunteers at parishes and schools; clergy formation programs to prevent abuse; and a Victim’s Assistance Ministry Office to provide pastoral care and support for victims as well as ensure reporting to law enforcement.
Since these programs were established more than 15 years ago, more than 329,000 adults have been trained in abuse prevention and reporting; 1.4 million Catholic school students have received age appropriate training that teaches them to understand appropriate and inappropriate boundaries and gives them the tools that empower them to take action and report if they feel uncomfortable, scared or confused; and more than 168,000 adults have been fingerprinted and undergone background checks.
These programs and policies do not take away from the very real harm that was done and the trust that has been broken in the Church. However, they are a testament to the commitment of the people of the Archdiocese, the majority of whom are lay Catholics who have worked for almost three decades to implement and carry out these programs to ensure:
• that abuse is reported to the police and investigated regardless of the statute of limitations;
• that victim-survivors and their families receive healing support; and
• that anyone found to have abused a minor at any time in their lives, regardless of whether a member of the clergy or a lay person, is not allowed to serve in any capacity in the Archdiocese under zero tolerance.
For more information regarding the Archdiocese’s programs and policies on the protection of young people and the prevention of abuse, visit www.archla.org/protecting.