The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now the target of two independent lawsuits from two separate groups of plaintiffs, claiming they are victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. One of the filings is a class-action suit that names the Vatican as a defendant.
The class-action lawsuit alleges that the Catholic Church is guilty of conspiracy and operating an ongoing criminal enterprise that violates federal racketeering statutes. The suit is the first of its kind in an attempt to hold the Vatican legally responsible in the U.S. for the actions of its ministers.
Each suit consists of six plaintiffs who are men from different states around the nation. Although the suits do not mention the individual incidents of abuse suffered by the plaintiffs, they do demand that the church reveal the names of all of its alleged sex offenders recorded within the church’s secret archives across the nation.
Minnesota based lawsuit against the USCCB
The suit filed in Minnesota on Nov. 13 names its six plaintiffs – Joseph McLean (Minnesota), Philip DiWilliams (Pennsylvania), Paul Done (New York), Troy Franks (California), Mark Pinkosh (California), and Darin Buckman (Illinois).
According to the lawsuit, the USCCB kept hidden the “known histories and identities from the public, parishioners and law enforcement of clergy accused of sexually abusing children across the country.”
The suit demands that all known offenders throughout the 196 dioceses across the nation be revealed, including 120 dioceses that have not provided a list of possible offending members of the clergy.
At a news conference in Baltimore, Joseph McLean, one of the sexual abuse survivors, stated that he decided to join the lawsuit in order to force the bishops to “come clean.” McClean stated that he is “here to protect kids” and also help other victims.
Class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C.
This class-action lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia on behalf of six plaintiffs claiming abuse from Catholic clergy as minors, and announced in Beaumont, TX. The six plaintiffs named are: Timothy B. Lennon (Arizona), Alfred L. Antonsen Jr. (Illinois), Mark S. Belenchia (Mississippi), Shaun A. Dougherty (Pennsylvania), Joseph Piscitelli (California), and Mark Crawford (New Jersey).
The suit, 80 pages long, asserts that the plaintiffs mentioned were subjected to systemic, endemic, pervasive, and rampant sexual abuse, and rape. It alleges that the “Catholic Church cardinals, bishops, monsignors, priests, sisters, lay leaders, members of Catholic religious orders, educators, and other personnel, members, agents and representatives while serving in active ministry” perpetrated the abuse “with the knowledge of the defendants.”
The suit also cites information concerning sexual abuse of children committed by Catholic clergy over a period of hundreds of years, specifically mentioning and condemning action taken by “the Council of Elvira in Spain” in A.D. 306. As well it refers to the Vatican’s decision in 1917 making it a criminal violation for clergy to engage in sex with children below the age of 16 and subsequent church legislation that codified the ban.
The attorneys in the lawsuit view it as a case that falls under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which was originally implemented in 1970 to go after organized crime. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, the class-action lawsuit is attempting to hold the Vatican responsible for serving clergy under its authority.
Based on the filing of the suit, it seeks compensatory damages without naming a sum; or, as a substitute for those damages, other financial awards, such as restitution, economic damages, and punitive damages.
The lawsuit mentions that the potential class of offenders, already known to the church, may number over 5,000. In addition to the financial damages the suit is pursuing, it is also demanding several other actions be taken, including:
- The institution of transparent policies, such as publishing the names of all known offenders
- A declaratory judgment for the church to report and discipline all known offenders
- The creation of procedures and practices to prevent or effectively handle any future instances of abuse
If you or your child has suffered sexual abuse or molestation from Catholic clergy or any other religious leader, we can help. The Los Angeles child sexual abuse attorneys at Taylor & Ring can provide you with compassionate and vigorous advocacy to help you recover the damages you are owed. To set up a free, no-obligation consultation about your case, give us a call today at 310.776.6390 or use our contact form to leave a message.