High-profile attorneys announce new lawsuit as survivors share stories of sex abuse in Baltimore Catholic church

CBS News [Baltimore, MD]

May 9, 2023

By CBS Baltimore staff

High-profile attorneys on Tuesday stood next to survivors, who shared stories of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

A new lawsuit will be filed against the Archdiocese of Baltimore by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and sexual abuse attorney Adam Slater on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the church. 

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a 456-page report earlier this year on an investigation that details nearly 160 clergy, teachers, seminarians and deacons within the Archdiocese who allegedly assaulted more than 600 children going back to the 1940s. 

Fifteen of the names were redacted or kept out of the report.

“We believe you,” Crump said. “You are victims no more. You are heroes for others who have suffered abuse by clergy of the Catholics of this city and this state. We are going to continue to stand with you.”

The attorneys announced the lawsuit Tuesday, which will be filed when the Maryland Child Victims Act goes into effect on October 1. 

The act, signed into law in April, eliminated the statute of limitations for survivors of child sex abuse in Maryland to sue their abusers. 

Survivors of child abuse, particularly those who experienced abuse within the Baltimore Catholic Church, had been pushing lawmakers to pass the act for decades.  

In the complaints to be filed, the attorneys argue the archdiocese failed to take action against the coverup of rampant sexual abuse.

With the attorneys advocating for the childhood sexual abuse survivors, several survivors described how the abuse has impacted their lives.

“This happened to me when I was very young, beyond my control,” said Mark Floto, a survivor. “It caused so many problems in my life, so much anger and hate against my family. I actually hated them for having a good life. I’ve come to terms that it has nothing to do with them. It had to do with one person in the Catholic church.”

Floto is speaking out to prevent more sexual abuses by faith leaders, and help others impacted come forward.

“I hope I can help someone young understand they can come forward,” he said. “And also to a priest that they can think twice about doing this to a child. They need to be held accountable. If they are not accountable, they are not Christians.”

On Monday, sex abuse survivors called for the resignation of Archbishop William Lori, and for the redacted names in the report to be disclosed.

“I don’t consider that to be a very honest, moral stance from someone who is supposed to assume the moral leadership of the Catholic Church,” survivor Frank Schindler said.

.Attorney Slater, who has a well-known history of defending sex abuse survivors, said he is fighting against the “pervasive and complicit silence” revealed in the report.

Slater also said these children were targeted shy and lacking confidence.

“All of the victims and survivors were either uncapable of providing consent because of their age or vulnerable circumstances,” Slater said. “In each of these cases, there was a imbalance in power between the abusers and the innocent people suffering in these cases. They have continued to carry the burden and shame for years, and decades, after the abuse ended. They were terrified of publicly disclosing the private terror they endured.”

Slater said that sex abuse survivors in the Catholic church will remain outspoken until justice is served.

“Now, they refuse to be quiet and they are afforded the opportunity to hold the institution accountable that enabled their abuse,” he said.

Timothy Ferguson, a former Maryland Senator, said he was an alter boy when he was sexually abused at the age of 13 or 14.

He said it started after a priest asked his parents if he could take Ferguson on an overnight fishing trip.

“Later after dinner, he plastered me with beer,” Ferguson said. “And then at night when it was time to go to bed, he said he only had one bed because the other bed was being renovated, so I had to sleep with him. He did his thing and I just froze and didn’t make a peep. When he got done, he rolled over and went to sleep and I stayed awake all night and couldn’t believe what happened.”

Joe Taylor said a priest, who led a beach trip to Ocean City, assaulted him when he refused to take part in his “program.”

Tanya Allen said she was constantly touched in front of the congregation by a church leader.

Then, she believed she was drugged while at a church camp.

“I snuck away and went to the dorm. I fell into a deep sleep and couldn’t move” Allen recalled. “I remember this heavy presence surrounding me. When I pulled myself up and was alert, there was a note on the nightstand that said, You look so beautiful when you sleep.’ I was petrified.”

Crump and Slater said they are also advocating for legislation like Maryland’s that would remove the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse across the country.   

Robert Manfield, who is now a pastor, said a priest in the Eastern Shore of Maryland offered him whiskey, marijuana and then was groped by a faith leader.

“I left the church and ran from God as far as I could. At 43, God found  me,” Manfield said. “Come forward. This has come to light with the Catholic Church. It has been swept under the rug. It’s time to bring this to light.”

Baltimore resident Chad Craig, who was raised Catholic, said he is speaking up for those who are too scared to report the abuse.

“In my experience, this is one of the most poorly kept secret ever,” Craig said. “It was known and obvious in the community who the bad guys were. I’m here to seek justice for those who aren’t strong enough to do it themselves.” 

Crump and Slater said they are also advocating for legislation like Maryland’s that would remove the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse across the country.