Sex Abuse Suits Are about Justice, Not Publicity
By Karen Cyson
St. Cloud Times
February 18, 2016
A recent Times letter writer rekindled an oft-heard complaint that St. Paul attorney Jeffery Anderson was getting too much publicity in newspapers.
The majority of the Anderson firm's work is helping victims of clergy sexual abuse seek justice, and his name is often mentioned in print when he is pursuing a case involving a child who has been raped by a Catholic priest.
Does this constitute publicity? Hardly.
An Associated Press article last week concerning a recent Anderson case, similar to other articles in the past few years regarding Anderson's advocating for victims, clearly illustrates this.
The report is about 500 words and concerns a priest from India hired by the Diocese of Crookston to serve at a parish in northern Minnesota in 2004. In 2010 he was charged with sexually assaulting two 14-year-old girls. The priest fled the United States and was apprehended by INTEPOL in India, extradited, pleaded guilty to molesting one of the girls. He was sentenced to the year he'd served in jail while awaiting trial, returned to India, and has now been cleared by the Roman Catholic Church to return to parish work.
Anderson is mention twice: Once as being the attorney who represented the children at the trial and once when he conveyed the current sentiments of the victims when they heard that their attacker was returning to church service with the blessings of the church. "They're both quite upset, disturbed and feel deeply betrayed that they would have the audacity to consider even putting him back in the ministry," he said.
This is not publicity for an attorney. It's news reporting and accurately reflects the chain of events and current situation. Anderson is an attorney, and his responsibility is not to seek publicity for himself, but justice for victims.
If the letter writer's real complaint, and I suspect it is, is that the Roman Catholic Church is portrayed unfavorably in articles in which Anderson's name appears, then the prudent thing for the church to do would be to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects transparency, a zero tolerance for sexual misdeeds by church officials, and a proactive stance towards justice for victims.
I doubt this will happen any time soon.
A recently released set of Vatican guidelines for bishops shows them to be under no obligation to report "crimes or sinful deeds."
In Minnesota, education and medical personnel and child care providers such as myself are mandated reporters if we even remotely suspect abuse. Yet the Vatican feels it is the sole responsibility of victims, usually children (or their parents) to report abuse.
Curiously, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, organized by Pope Francis in June to "establish best practices in efforts to eradicate child sexual abuse" was not involved in developing these guidelines.
In fact, the 17-member commission, which includes church officials and laity members including two adults who were victims as children, has made no progress. One of these members, Peter Saunders, was removed from the commission by the Vatican in early February after he stated the commission had done no real work since its formation.
The easiest way to lower the number of times Anderson's name is mentioned in print would be for the Roman Catholic Church to adopt a worldwide zero tolerance for sexual abuse by its employees, the mandatory reporting to law enforcement/social services of any suspicion of abuse, and non-negotiable expulsion from church employment of anyone guilty of sexual abuse and anyone who fails to report known abuse or who participates in the coverup of abuse.
It's all well and good for the pope to set up commissions and offer victims compassion and sympathy and a hug and a prayer, but why not do the right thing? It's time the church offered justice.
This is the opinion of Karen Cyson, a child-care provider in Stearns County and vice president of Minnesota Mensa. Her column is published the third Friday of the month