Sex Abuse Victims Rally Together
Conference Helps Many Cope with Emotional Issues
By Lori Burling
Associated Press, carried in Boston Globe
February 23, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Phil Cogswell is a second-generation survivor.
"I'm the son of a survivor. My father was abused by a priest just like I was," Cogswell, 47, of Boston, said yesterday during the annual conference for The Linkup, a national advocacy group that helps victims of church sexual abuse deal with the emotional aftermath.
"I was an easy prey with the lack of a father," said Cogswell, noting that his father battled depression, alcoholism, and a fear of the church because of his abuse.
Cogswell was one of nearly 200 survivors who attended the three-day conference sponsored by the Louisville, Ky.-based group, which has become a national voice urging churches and religions to take responsibility for abuse cases.
Dozens of victims searched a white banner that lined a wall naming more than 1,300 priests who have been accused or convicted of sexual abuse. The banner, provided by victims' advocacy group Survivors First of Boston, included the Revs. Louis E. Miller, Daniel C. Clark, and James Hargadon, who face criminal charges of felony sexual misconduct in Kentucky.
"This gives us the opportunity to come together to make a difference," said Mary Miller, of Louisville, who has accused her uncle, the Rev. Louis E. Miller, of sexually abusing her as a child.
Across the nation, hundreds of priests have been accused of sexual abuse. In Kentucky, more than 200 civil lawsuits have been filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville by plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused by a clergy member or church employee when they were children.
The group was established in 1991 by abuse victims and has more than 3,000 members, according to its website.
The group's vice president spoke yesterday of his plans to build a retreat center for church abuse victims in western Kentucky. The Rev. Gary Hayes, of Cloverport, Ky., who was abused by a priest as a child, said he has made an offer on land for the center, but still needs to raise thousands of dollars.
"I'm hoping for a miracle," Hayes said.
A workshop at the conference, held by attorney Jeff Anderson of Minnesota, discussed the legal obstacles abuse victims face when trying to hold their abusers accountable. Anderson represented his first church abuse victim nearly 20 years ago, and hundreds of clients have followed since then.
"We're not against religions; we're against cultures that create a safe haven for predators," Anderson said. "Our enemy is the clerical cultures of secrecy."
Anderson's primary message was encouraging survivors to file lawsuits and lobby for new legislation.
"This year, there has been a seismic shift in public opinion. Lawmakers are now ready to help," he said.
Anderson said though he has won many cases, dozens of others have been tossed out of court because they had not been filed within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases varies from state to state. However, the majority do not allow a victim to take any civil or criminal action against someone if the abuse occurred more than five years prior.
"I've never lost a case because the abuse was not true," Anderson said. "The barrier in child abuse cases is the statute of limitations. We have to tell lawmakers that it needs to change so they can protect our children."
Sue Archibald, president of The Linkup, recently lobbied at Kentucky's General Assembly for two bills that would help child abuse victims, specifically within the Roman Catholic Church.
A Senate bill to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits appeared to have reached a dead end last week. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said the bill was unlikely to come up for a vote. A second bill was introduced in the House that would require clergy to divulge confessions of child sexual abuse by penitents to law enforcement authorities. The bill has not moved out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Although those at the conference were focused on ways to move forward, their eyes could not hide the abuse. An Iowa woman who had been abused by her uncle who was a priest had to take a moment for herself, saying, "sometimes it's just too much."
Others attended the conference as an effort to stop repeat abusers from continuing to serve as clergy members.
"I'm vocal about this. I don't care what it does to me as long as I can save one child," said Bob Ethen, 50, of St. Cloud, Minn., who was abused by a priest while serving as an altar boy.
This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 2/23/2003.
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