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Ready for Battle: Five Clergy Abuse Survivors Take on the Vatican in a Fight for the Truth

5/14/2019 3:56:00 PM
Stacey Benson
Saint Paul, MN – Today five brave survivors of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up – three emerging from their “John Doe” status and using their names for the first time – filed suit against the Vatican, charging nuisance and public endangerment, including allowing known offenders to continue public ministry through cover-up and reassignment. The lawsuit also demands the release of several thousand secret files on predator priests known to and protected by top Catholic officials including, but not limited to, Archbishop John Nienstedt, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Archbishop Anthony Apuron. The five survivors and their attorney Jeff Anderson spoke out today in a press conference at the law offices of Jeff Anderson and Associates.

“This lawsuit really does not focus on financial recovery,” Anderson said in a video released in advance of the conference. “It focuses upon the longstanding patterns and practices by the papacy adhering to secrecy.” The claim has been brought to the Minnesota Federal District Court in direct and urgent response to Pope Francis’ half-measured pledges for stronger reporting of child sexual abuse within the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. As detailed in Section 145 of the claim, the Pope’s approach remains critically flawed because it still requires claims of abuse to be handled internally within the Catholic Church. The Pope still has not issued any meaningful decree or Apostolic Exhortation regarding the prevention of clergy sexual abuse despite his authority to do so.

Although the Pope and his hierarchs appear confident they can sufficiently handle these matters “in-house” and independent of law enforcement, the historical wholesale failure of these sorts of self-interested measures suggests the threat of clergy sexual abuse will proliferate. That is, unless bold action is taken to dismantle the systemic secrecy threaded throughout the governing ranks of the Catholic Church.

An action of undeniable boldness was taken today by the five survivors bringing suit, including James Keenan (abused by Fr. Thomas Adamson, Archdiocese of St. Paul/Mpls), Manuel Vega (abused by Fr. Fidencio Silva-Flores, Archdiocese of L.A.) and brothers Luke, Stephen, and Benedict Hoffman, who spoke publicly for the first time as survivors of sexual abuse by Curtis Wehmeyer, a former Archdiocese of St. Paul/Mpls priest who was protected by Archbishop Nienstedt for years. The three brothers were part of the criminal charges brought against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. All five plaintiffs are bringing this claim as individuals and on behalf of the general public.

“The reason I agreed to do this is because I’m still Catholic,” said survivor and plaintiff Ben Hoffman. “I have a deep love for the Church, I have a deep love for my faith. But we have to fix this. We need to be more eager to live in the truth.”

The plaintiffs, their attorneys and advocates demand that the Minnesota Federal District Court order the Vatican to:
1.    Release all the identities of thousands of offenders known exclusively by the Vatican and held in strict secrecy;
2.    Release the files and pertinent histories of the thousands of offenders;
3.    Release the identities of the top officials accused of sexual abuse worldwide, including the histories of each known only by the Vatican; and,
4.    Report all evidence held secretly in its possession in the papal office of clerical crimes to law enforcement worldwide.

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what my brothers and I went through and continue to go through every single day,” said survivor and plaintiff Stephen Hoffman. “I want the Vatican to do what’s right and bring everything into the light. I want kids to be safe.” 

Whether or not the demands will be heard is yet to be seen. With each passing day, predator priests in the thousands pose an immediate threat to children, parishes and communities around the world.

But Anderson is more confident than ever. “We have navigated the law very thoughtfully,” he said. “We have sharpened a sword that is so sharp that it can cut the cancer out of the clerical culture that resides at the top. They will stall. They will put up legal shields. They will fight us at every turn. We are prepared. We are ready for battle.”