Catholic Church Responds to Sexual Abuse Scandals with Preventative Policies

August 9, 2006

Tuesday, WIS aired an interview with a Midlands man who took legal action against the Catholic Church. The church has responded to allegations of sexual misconduct by church personnel, and now WIS is looking into what they're doing to safeguard their congregations.

The Catholic Church in South Carolina has a policy designed to deal with claims of sexual misconduct by church personnel. It's 30 pages long.

Right up front, church leaders say they are "adamant" that abuse of children will not be tolerated. The policy has been in place since 2003, before John Morris and three other men filed a class action lawsuit against the Diocese of Charleston, which oversees all parishes in the state.

All four plaintiffs said as children they'd been sexually abused by priests.

"I have no desire to hurt the Catholic Church. My desire is to strengthen the church and make them come to their responsibility," says Morris.

Statement on Recent Settlement from the Diocese of Charleston

The Diocese of Charleston does not tolerate sexual abuse by its personnel and we are committed to reaching out in a just, pastoral way to people who have been harmed by this crime. In June, we reached a settlement with three people who alleged they were abused by James Nyhan in 1978 and one person who alleged he was abused by Lawrence Sheedy in the late 1960s. We also reached a tentative class action settlement in order to reach out to adult survivors of sexual abuse by personnel of the Diocese of Charleston.

Nyhan was criminally prosecuted and removed from ministry. He was a priest of Archdiocese of Boston visiting our diocese for one year, 1978. Sheedy was a priest of the Diocese of Charleston. He is deceased.

We believe that fairly compensating victims is a matter of justice and promotes healing. The Diocese is currently working on details of the proposed class action agreement for compensation and resolution and will provide more information once an agreement is completed.

In June, Morris and the others settled their suit. The agreement called on the diocese to set up a $12 million fund which Morris says will be used to pay for any future claims against the Church.

Morris, who lives in Lugoff, says he was often told by the priest who molested him that he should keep quiet about what happened. But he says two years ago, when he went to confession at St. Peter's Church in Columbia, a pastor again urged him to remain silent. "He said that this was old news and that, you know, that it would serve no purpose."

Morris says Monsignor Leigh Lehocky even told him he might face excommunication if he went public with his story. Monsignor Lehocky declined to appear on camera, but he told us Morris' account of what happened in the confessional booth is not accurate.

Lehocky says confession is designed to help people open up about the things that are troubling them. And he says he thinks investigations into sexual conduct by clergy have in general been good for the Catholic Church.

Lehocky has spoken out about changes in Church policy on the subject before. Four years ago, he told us the Church had taken steps to confront the problem, "If the allegation is substantiated, not only does the Church continue to offer assistance to the victim, but it then makes permanent the suspension of the priest."

A spokesman for the Diocese says its current policy on sexual abuse and misconduct has been in effect since 2003. But Stephen Gajdosik says the Diocese first issued a written policy in 1994, and that policy was revised in 1997 and then, in 2003. Gajdosik says that occurred several years before a requirement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.