Kentucky Legislature Shouldn't Bow to Catholic Church on Priest Abuse
By William F. McMurry
September 26, 2018
As reported in the Courier Journal on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2018, Kentucky Attorney General Andrew Beshear, announced that he “will seek the legislature’s permission to form a statewide grand jury to investigate Kentucky’s Catholic dioceses in line with last month’s damning report on Pennsylvania Catholic churches.”
In 2004, I witnessed our legislature’s refusal to change the laws governing the time limitations for lawsuits against those who would hide and protect child sexual abusers. The Catholic leadership in Kentucky actively sought to prevent the passage of legislation that would have eliminated the civil statute of limitations as a road block to lawsuits against the church for its conduct in hiding and shielding its pedophiles, and they succeeded.
It is painful to imagine why any legislator would vote to protect a pedophile. Many states across the U.S. have passed legislation extending the statute of limitations, allowing victims time to come forward to file their claims. Connecticut, for example, allows a victim of child sexual abuse 30 years from the date the child becomes a legal adult to file his or her legal claim against those responsible.
Until the time limitations on lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse are extended, I will continue to struggle with the words I use to advise survivors: “I am sorry, but there is no remedy for you.” If there is no remedy, there is no accountability. Unless we see real accountability for concealing and protecting known pedophiles, children will never be safe in their parish communities.
The only form of accountability available is the civil justice system. Sadly, money is the only form of compensation available to a survivor of abuse. It is the church’s reluctance to let go of that money that is behind its decision to hide its pedophiles.
Currently, the statute of limitations expires on a victim’s right to bring a civil lawsuit arising out of the hiding and shielding of pedophiles on the child’s 19th birthday. The statute of limitations ending a child-victim’s right to bring a lawsuit against the actual abuser is age 23.
Social science instructs that on average, childhood survivors must reach their 40s before they begin to accept that the abuse was not their fault. When a child is abused by an adult, that incident for the child remains frozen in time such that he/she continues to see the incident through the eyes of a child: “I must have done something wrong for this to have happened to me.”
How do I know this? I have listened to more than 1,000 adults reiterate this well-understood dynamic as each recounted his or her personal story.
See also: Editorial: Kentucky must investigate Catholic church sex abuse
Curiously, the Archdiocese of Louisville advised the Courier Journal that “we have always cooperated with the authorities in our response to sexual abuse and will continue to do so.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality lies in the magnitude of the carnage in this community over the last 60 years:
On April 19, 2002, I filed the first lawsuit against the Archdiocese on behalf of perhaps the bravest man I have ever known, Michael Turner. Together, we reached out to the community of survivors and by July of 2002, I had filed 150 individual lawsuits against the Archdiocese. By September of 2002, I had filed 185 lawsuits on behalf of adult survivors. In all, my partners and I filed a total of 243 lawsuits, but the voices of 1,000 more still haunt me to this day.
Each lawsuit alleged actions taken by the Archdiocese to conceal its priest’s sexual abuse. By the time our cases concluded, we identified 35 abusive priests, one sitting bishop, two religious brothers, three Catholic school teachers and one volunteer football coach. In 2004, I discovered the victimization of more than 100 orphans at the St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage from the 1940s through its demise in the mid 1980s, also operated by the Archdiocese.
Many of the then-living perpetrators were prosecuted and served prison sentences. The criminal abuse we uncovered spanned five decades stretching into the 1980s, yet during these years, no Archbishop or employee of the Archdiocese of Louisville ever voluntarily reported a priest even after the priest had admitted to church hierarchy his “sin” of sexually abusing a child.
More: It's time for the Catholic church to finally learn from its shameful past
Despite Louis Miller’s admission under oath that he reported his abuse of children to three archbishops (including Kelly), no one reported his conduct to the police as required by Kentucky law. Miller was encouraged to serve as a priest into 1990 and remained in a position of trust until we filed these lawsuits. No prison sentence for a priest can be assumed to be “justice” for survivors of abuse, when it is the hiding of pedophiles by the archbishops that caused this cruelty. There remain hundreds of survivors who were not ready to come forward in 2002 and will never see justice because the statute of limitations ran out on their 19th birthday.
Frustrated by my inability to achieve real accountability, I brought the only successful suit in the U.S. against the Holy See (The Vatican). While my partners and I were able to establish for the first time in U.S. history that the Vatican could not shield itself as a “foreign nation” under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Vatican benefitted from the short statute of limitations and no longer held any assets in the U.S. available to seize as damages for its directing U.S. Bishops to hide pedophiles.
While Kentucky is one of only three states in the U.S. that has no period of limitations for filing criminal charges for “felony” child sexual abuse, Kentucky’s civil statute of limitations is antiquated, pitifully short and totally inconsistent with the burgeoning recognition across the globe not only of the frequency of child sexual abuse but also of the extent of its coverup by the church.
God knows. It is time for a change.