Despite Numbers, Some Say True Tally of Victims Remains Unknown
Associated Press, carried in WKYT
January 14, 2006
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Mary Fuchs knows there are other victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy out there.
"I could probably find about 100 people easily, but they won't say anything," said Fuchs, who was abused by her cousin, the Rev. Louis Miller, and took part in a $25.7 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The dynamic, though, isn't limited to the Louisville case. Despite the hundreds of victims cited in various church settlements around the country, attorneys, support groups and experts say there are many more victims who may never be heard from.
Counselors and attorneys said some victims of abuse will not come forward because of shame or fear of public exposure, even though the church offers assistance to victims while promising not to make their plight public.
Dioceses say they know there are more victims than have come forward publicly or in legal cases. It's a matter of reaching out to them with offers of confidential help in the form of invitations to meet with the bishop or archbishop, meetings and offers of counseling, said Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Father Thomas Doyle, a Roman Catholic priest who has tracked sex abuse in the church since the mid-1980s, said for victims, litigation or public scrutiny can enhance the pain they already feel.
"I don't think anyone but a victim can express what they've gone through," Doyle said.
The prospect of public exposure, though, will often keep people living in silence rather than come forward as part of a lawsuit, Doyle said. He cited the 361 victims in the settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, a diocese that once included 57 counties across a large swath of Kentucky, as an example.
"I believe there are individuals out there you will never know about," Doyle said, saying any attempt to estimate how many would be "pure speculation." "They will suffer in silence and shame and no amount of assistance will ever bring them out."
The Covington Diocese presented to a judge for approval an $85 million settlement with its victims this month and previously paid out $10.8 million to 58 victims in other settlements.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, noted that in some cases, the more publicity and success lawsuits have, the more victims come forward.
As an example, Clohessy cited the Archdiocese of Boston, which paid out $85 million to 525 victims in 2004. Since then, 200 more people have come forward with allegations, Clohessy said. But, Clohessy said, even with the latest group, there are likely many, many more people who won't come forward.
"There's shame, there's self-blame, there's a zillion reasons why they won't come forward," he said.
Stan Chesley, attorney for the victims in the Covington case, said statisticians initially predicted between 700 and 800 people would come forward with claims of abuse in that case. Chesley said those estimates were based on the size of the diocese, the number of priests suspected to have been involved and the number of people that have made claims in other cases.
But, even that number doesn't wouldn't account for all the abuse cases in the Covington diocese, Chesley said.
"I thought there would be more," Chesley said. "Some of the claimants could have been priests, people connected with the church or people who just can't talk about it."
Carrie Huff, an attorney for the Diocese of Covington, said there are certainly more victims than are known to the public and the diocese is aware of them and helping some of them.
Bishop Roger Foys has met with some victims, while others have accepted counseling or simply taken the opportunity to express their feelings to someone involved with the church, Huff said.
"Are there people out there who chose to stay quiet? Probably there are," Huff said. "They have a right to make that choice and we don't have a right to take that choice from them."
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