Victims of Louisville Priest Abuse Dismiss Church Report Touting Reforms
By Caitlin McGlade
Louisville Courier Journal
October 18, 2018
The Archdiocese of Louisville on Thursday touted reforms implemented since 2002, when hundreds of people revealed that priests had abused them as children.
Abuse survivors and their advocates dismissed the effort as nothing new and underwhelming.
“They’re like Marlboro cigarettes,” said Jeff Koenig, who was abused by a priest as a child. “They’re just trying to make their name brand look good and keep their name brand alive.”
While revealing no new information about sex-abuse allegations, church leaders professed their allegiance to rules and training programs designed to create safe environments for children and healing support for survivors.
They did acknowledge that more should be done. Chancellor Brian Reynolds pledged to take advice from child sex-abuse survivors as the church creates new ways to offer them support.
The four-page report published in the Catholic Record does not name priests who abused children, as the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and other Indiana diocese have in response to outrage driven by a Pennsylvania grand jury report that has prompted a federal investigation.
Louisville said only that it will decide if it will name names after a third-party review of its records.
Abuse survivors and their advocates said Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz has done little to heal deep wounds. Empowered by the Pennsylvania report, about two dozen of them protested before Louisville's downtown cathedral in September.
Heeding their demands for accountability, the Kentucky attorney general is seeking legislation to form a grand jury much like the one in Pennsylvania. Any action is months away.
Cal Pfeiffer, director of the Louisville chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has led the recent call for more transparency by the Louisville Archdiocese. He questioned whether the church would truly take advice from abuse survivors.
"They don't mention the structure; they don't mention who's in charge of that or when it's going to happen," Pfeiffer said. "How are you going to reach out to victims and survivors?"
Others criticized the report for not naming a single priest who had abused children, while another questioned why the document included no voices from survivors.
“The most disturbing omission that is chronic is the story from survivors," said Mary Sue Barnett, a local activist ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. "The survivors and families that have been silenced."
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In the report, Kurtz wrote that his heart goes out to victims and their loved ones and made reference to Pennsylvania church leaders who protected more than 300 "predator priests" for decades.
"We are distressed and angered by horrible events in which bishops, priests, and other church leaders broke the sacred trust with those they have promised to serve as well as their promises of chaste living," Kurtz wrote. "This harm has been compounded by the inaction, negligence, or inadequate response of bishops. I personally have felt the weight of these scandals."
Kurtz inherited a deeply wounded diocese when he arrived from Knoxville in 2007. His predecessors had allowed abusive priests to remain in ministry. Hundreds of abuse survivors sued the archdiocese in 2002 for abuse they'd endured. The archdiocese paid them $25.7 million and adopted new policies.
Kurtz said Thursday's report "aims to bring the light of truth and the healing of Jesus Christ into the darkness of these sinful actions."
The Louisville report, a collection of articles and letters, explains what the church does when it receives abuse allegations, how it trains staff and volunteers to recognize sex abuse, and what its victim assistance coordinator does. It noted that two unidentified Louisville priests who abused children live under "prayer and penance," meaning they cannot celebrate Mass publicly, administer sacraments, dress as priests or have unsupervised contact with minors.
The report also offered resources for parents to learn more about childhood safety programs and answered frequently answered questions. It contains roughly 1,300 words on "Sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Louisville Past to Present."
That passage, written by Reynolds, briefly touches on the cover-up that brought about the 2002 lawsuits. Reynolds wrote that the church had more than 200 cases of child sexual abuse in an era when church leaders moved priests to new assignments after finding instances of abuse.
The archdiocese paid 12 settlements to victims throughout the 1980s and 1990s, commonly on terms that their ordeal remain confidential, Reynolds wrote.
He went on to cite widely known facts about the 2003 lawsuit settlement and then listed policies adopted in the fallout. Examples include: all abuse cases are reported to police if the accused still lives; priests or deacons who abuse are banned from ministry; and no settlements may include confidentiality clauses.
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Reynolds wrote that the Archdiocese of Louisville has consistently followed the rules since 2002 and has passed compliance audits.
He concluded with a promise to do more.
"Recent events have raised issues of trust, accountability, moral leadership, power, and clericalism," he wrote. "Despite all of the efforts of the Church to address sexual abuse, it is clear that more needs to be done."
Read the report by clicking here.
Michael Norris, who was abused by a priest at camp during his childhood, dismissed the report as "more of the same."
"It’s good words, it’s damage control. They’re concerned people are going to leave the pews and quit giving them money," he said. "We need them to really reach out to victims and spend the time.”