Statutes of Limitation Stymie Victims of Clerical Pedophilia
By Mary Sanchez
September 4, 2018
The excruciating pain of Michael Foreman has never been widely shared, certainly not with his name attached.
Now in his mid-50s, the Kansas City area man — listed as John Doe in previous court filings — began pursuing a legal claim about five years ago that he is a victim of a deceased pedophile priest who had been assigned to a number of Kansas parishes. A professional evaluation concurred, finding him “traumatically affected in his life due to the victimization inflicted by a trusted leader in his community.”
That’s putting it lightly. He’s a self-described hermit, a man who can spend four to five hours each day rocking back and forth in a self-soothing ritual.
Foreman claims he was abused at age 11 in 1972, when his devoutly Catholic mother sent her boisterous son to the parish priest for one-on-one counseling.
The priest allegedly engaged in strange therapies, having the young boy beat him with a pillow as the priest was on the floor in a fetal position. Foreman says the priest tried to kiss him, “slobbering” all over him.
Other details from other sessions, Foreman says, are blocked from his memory.
A licensed therapist certified that Foreman has a major depressive disorder, a range of phobias and anger issues due to the sexual abuse.
The latter is apparent immediately. He told the therapist, “I want to be paid and I want vengeance.”
Yet the reason that he may never receive any solace, either financially or emotionally, illustrates the quandary of so many people victimized as children by clergy and other adults in whose care they were placed.
His time to sue expired decades ago. Even under more recent changes that tried to allow for people who have repressed memories of their abuse, foreman came up too old to be allowed to press forward his claims.
The priest in question, Finian Meis, was removed from the priestly duties in 1986 and later defrocked. Meis died in 1997.
Which also means he couldn’t defend himself against the accusations. And in 2013, the archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas agreed with an Independent Review Board that decided Foreman’s accusations could not be substantiated as credible, even though Foreman’s attorney said that the diocese settled three other claims involving accusations of sexual abuse against Meis — confidential settlements to one woman and two men — yet it still claims Foreman’s case isn’t credible.
Every state ought to be looking at this case, and take steps to ensure that crimes committed against children aren’t blocked from redress when they are adults.
Kansas has some of the most restrictive laws governing statutes of limitations for sexual abuse victims, despite changes made in 1992 that attempted to address the needs of a child victim who might not remember abuse until years later, according to Rebecca Randles, Foreman’s attorney.
In Pennsylvania, a lawsuit was filed this week that aims to expand that state’s limits on when people can file civil claims of childhood abuse. Right now, a person victimized as a child cannot file a civil complaint after he or she turns 30; no criminal complaints are valid after the victim turns 50.
Expect similar challenges elsewhere. Other attorney generals (including Missouri) are opening reviews similar to the grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that reinvigorated attention to sexual abuse committed by priests.
Changing these laws will be a battle in the courts and in legislatures. And the church will understandably fear being bankrupted by new claims, of being held responsible for the actions of bishops long deceased.
If it can be shown that a diocese fraudulently blocked information about sexual predation by priests, the cases must be allowed to go forward.
Meanwhile, the headlines are shifting back to Rome. Pope Francis himself has been accused of turning a blind eye to the sins of a prominent American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.
Some are trying to confuse pedophilia and homosexuality. Others argue that gay priests — or unmarried priests — are the crux of the problem.
As enticing as those lines of thought are for discussion, it’s paramount to remain cognizant of the victims. Foreman went from being a happy child, a pitcher and a quarterback on youth teams, to become an angry withdrawn child who grew into an angry, isolated man.
“They haven’t shown me any thread of mercy,” he says of the church.
Some survivors of this evil successfully rebuild their lives, seek counseling and avoid the siren call of alcohol and drugs to soothe their pain as self-medication.
But others, such as Foreman, are not so lucky. And there are countless other victims with equally horrifying stories who must be heard, who must have their accusations examined for truth. If credible, they deserve action, even if it means significant financial losses to the church.
Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.