Viewpoint: One year later, reforms still needed at South Bend-based People of Praise

South Bend Tribune [South Bend IN]

July 3, 2022

By Kevin Connolly

Around this time last year, the Washington Post printed a front-page story detailing allegations of sexual and physical abuse within the South Bend-based People of Praise and its affiliated Trinity Schools. Shortly after this, four of us mentioned in the article wrote a Viewpoint in The Tribune suggesting reforms for the group.

One year later, these reforms have not been met. Most significantly, the People of Praise have not publicly named all who have been credibly accused of abuse or concealing abuse. The public has no information about whether wrongdoers have been removed from the organization.

And earlier this month, another newspaper reported on allegations against People of Praise co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorothy. The allegations came in the form of sworn affidavits, filed in the 1990s, by three women who had lived within the Ranaghan household. The allegations described what many would consider to be child abuse.

This new report is significant not just for what it describes, but for the questions it raises about how the People of Praise has handled instances of abuse over the years. One lesson of the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is that when leaders are themselves a party to abuse, they are less likely to report other instances of abuse that come to their attention.

Last month, the Southern Baptist Convention released a report on sexual abuse within the organization. While the report revealed genuinely awful conduct, including widespread abuse and cover up, the process used by the SBC to conduct the inquiry was the right one. For an institution to conduct a proper investigation into abuse, they need to hire a third-party investigative firm tasked with creating an independent public report.

In the past, the People of Praise have hired lawyers as independent investigators. Such lawyers report to the people who have hired them. They have no obligation to release information publicly. Furthermore, these lawyers are not obligated to tell victims whether those victims have a legal case against the organization. The People of Praise has also assembled a “task force” to supposedly investigate abuse within their organization. However, that task force is composed of People of Praise members and leadership, which has the potential to introduce bias into the investigation. Furthermore, such a task force is not obligated to report any of their findings to the actual victims of abuse.

If the People of Praise is serious about investigating abuse within the organization in a way that does justice to survivors, it needs to hire a third party investigative firm that will conduct an independent investigation and release a full report of its findings to the public.

Kevin Connolly lives in Narberth, Pa.