Behind Closed Doors: The Alarming Reality of Abusers and Their So-Called Restrictions

Adam Horowitz Law [Fort Lauderdale, FL]

March 11, 2024

Wonder if Your Abuser is Obeying His “Restrictions?” He’s Likely Not.

When pain and betrayal stem from those meant to guide and protect, finding solace in the whispers of reassurance seems like the last beacon of hope. If you’ve ever reported a cleric who molested you to church authorities, you were likely comforted with the assertion that the accused is under some form of “restrictions.” These measures are presumed to make it harder for them to harm others. While this claim might provide a temporary sense of security, the unfortunate reality is that adhering to these “restrictions” is more of an exception than the norm. Let’s explore why authentic enforcement is rarely more than a facade, the implications, and the true avenue for justice.

→ The Illusion of “Restrictions”

The comfort provided by the church in times of crisis cannot be understated. However, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable from sexual abuse by clergy, the measures often touted fall woefully short. Here’s why the concept of “restrictions” may not be as effective as you’re led to believe.

→ Public Relations Over Protection

The claim of imposing “restrictions” is cost-free and easy to make, yet challenging to refute. It functions primarily as a public relations strategy designed to quell the fears and concerns of the victim, witnesses, and the church community without addressing the root of the problem.

→ A Familial Approach to Oversight

Many bishops view their relationship with priests through a familial lens, considering them as “sons” to be guided rather than monitored. This dynamic significantly undermines the enforcement of any real or meaningful limitations on their actions.

→ Lack of Real Enforcement

Enforcement is typically relegated to church officials who lack the training or resources to effectively monitor and supervise individuals with a history of sexual misconduct. Although educated and trained in religious doctrine, music, history, etc, they are completely ill-equipped to supervise, monitor, and limit the activities of sexually troubled and often sexually compulsive brothers, monks, seminarians, and priests. This gap in oversight leaves ample room for abusers to continue their predatory behavior under the guise of compliance.

The Harsh Reality Behind the Claims

With the church’s inclination towards safeguarding its image and the inherent difficulties in monitoring offenders, the purported “restrictions” often amount to little more than lip service. Let’s delve into the consequences of this failure to act.

Unchecked Access to New Venues

Even if an abuser respects the boundaries set within one parish or institution, nothing prevents them from engaging with other unsuspecting communities. The lack of a centralized, enforceable system allows these individuals to move freely, often continuing their predatory behavior elsewhere.

Rare Public Punishment

It’s incredibly unusual for clerics who violate their “restrictions” to face public or severe repercussions. The absence of accountability extends to those tasked with enforcement, further eroding any semblance of trust or safety within the community.

Think for a minute about what happens after a pastor or bishop says, “Oh, no need to worry. We’ve told Fr. Mike (or the deacon, organist, teacher, choir director, or summer camp counselor) to stay away from kids.” OR “don’t go into the school” OR “avoid the daycare center.” How on earth would you determine whether such restrictions exist or are just words on paper?

Further, how could you determine whether such restrictions are actually making a difference? Let’s say, for instance, a suspected abuser has been forbidden to return to his old workplace, whether a parish, a seminary, or a Catholic non-profit. Even if he honors this boundary, nothing stops him from spending time at another parish, seminary, or Catholic non-profit, where he can continue to deceive, manipulate, and abuse others.

And, perhaps most crucially, it’s exceedingly rare to see instances in which offender clerics are publicly and severely punished for violating their restrictions. Taking it a step further, we at Horowitz Law have never seen a case in which a cleric or clerics who were assigned to monitor or supervise an alleged predator priest have been punished for failing or refusing to perform this task adequately. Sometimes, it’s even worse.  The San Jose, California bishop didn’t even promise to put restrictions on some of the predators who are or were in his diocese. Instead, he tried to reassure his flock by speculating that the direct supervisors of some child molesting clerics – whether in religious orders or from other dioceses – “would have placed restrictions on their ministry if the allegations.”

Heartbreaking Instances of Continued Abuse

To illustrate the gap between promise and practice, consider the following cases:

Fr. Richard James Kurtz

After being sentenced for child sexual assault, Kurtz was found violating his “restrictions” by engaging in the production and possession of child pornography. His crimes spanned multiple states, raising questions about the efficacy of internal church measures.

Fr. Mark Kurzendoerfer

Despite “restrictions” on direct contact with children, Kurzendoerfer was accused of privately counseling two boys, showcasing how easily these mandates can be circumvented.

Fr. Gary Carr

Carr’s actions led to his “restrictions” being kept from the public for over a decade, highlighting the church’s lack of transparency and accountability.

Fr. Armand J. Thibault

Fr. Armand J. Thibault of Maine spent 21 years in Lesotho and Zambia and belonged to two religious orders, the Sacred Heart Brothers and the Marists.

These cases are just a snapshot of the broader issue, underscoring the imperative need for institutional change.

The Path to Real Accountability

While some church authorities do enact and enforce restrictions on abusive clerics, this approach remains the exception. Real change and justice often come when victims step outside the ecclesiastical system and turn toward secular legal avenues. Reporting abuse to secular authorities not only helps protect others but ensures abusers face tangible consequences for their actions.

The courage to stand up and hold perpetrators accountable outside the confines of the church ignites the flame of change and paves the way for healing. As difficult as it may be, the journey towards justice and healing is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, reminding us that light can emerge from the darkest places.

Remember, you’re not alone in this fight. Together, we can shed light on the truth and ensure that real, meaningful actions replace empty promises.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.