(July 10, 2020) – A group that supports child abuse survivors is urging them to come forward to tell their stories. Those willing to share will be offered free membership in a group where they can communicate with other abuse survivors and access related information.
The group is concerned with how bankruptcy proceedings begun by many Catholic church dioceses and other religious institutions is affecting the survivors’ ability to achieve fair compensation for their abuse.
SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – is encouraging abuse survivors to contact CHILD USA, a group that wishes to document the experiences of child abuse victims and survivors who, while attempting to pursue justice, have been wrapped up in bankruptcy proceedings.
Survey Anonymity, Confidentiality, Compensation
CHILD USA is asking these survivors and their families to fill out a 14-minute survey. The web site says all survey responses are anonymous and confidential, and promises respondents will be compensated for their time.
This research is being facilitated by the Sean P. McIlmail Research Institute at CHILD USA. One can learn more about the history of that institute and this project here.
More Incentive: Access to Other Abuse Survivors
For incentive, the site says that each participant will also be given a personal code which will grant access to CHILD USA’s Membership Portal for one year. The site says the portal holds a “curated list of books, documentaries, videos, articles, and online resources for survivors and their families to help heal after experiencing trauma.”
CHILD USA assures that survey answers will remain 100% confidential and anonymous. The intent, says CHILD USA, is to “provide the social science and legal analysis required to give survivors justice.”
Abuse by Religious Institutions
In an overview, CHILD USA says, “[T]his is a brief, voluntary survey about child sexual abuse at the hands of American Archdiocese, Diocese, Parish, or Religious Order members, particularly in cases where the religious organization of the abuser filed for bankruptcy during or before the settlement process.”
The group says that it does not wish to make survivors relive trauma, but that it wants to hear each respondent’s experiences with the church and the court.
CHILD USA says it is collecting the data to better support, advocate for, and defend victims of abuse and their families. The survey is intended solely for victims of sex abuse and their families.
Catholic Church shields Assets from Victims
Many Catholic dioceses and other church orders have attempted to shield their assets, or hidden or re-shuffled them in attempts to escape financial liability for past crimes by their priests or pastors.
Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January 2020 that the Catholic church has attempted to shield more than $2 billion in assets in order to keep those funds from reaching victims of sex abuse.
For decades, the Catholic Church minimized the damage pedophile priests brought it by covering up their abuse. Bloomberg notes that when the bishop of the Davenport, Iowa diocese learned in the mid-1950s that one of his priests was sexually abusing boys at a local YMCA, he kept it secret. He wrote to a priest: “It is consoling to know that no general notoriety has arisen, and I pray none may result.”
That Iowa bishop’s reaction was clear evidence — which has also since been laid bare by hundreds of clergy abuse lawsuits that have uncovered similar sentiments by other church officials — that the church was more concerned with the damage to its reputation than to its victims.
Back in the bad old days — the 1930s, ’40s, ‘50s, ’60s, ’70s – the church’s cover-ups usually worked because victims and their families could be intimidated or silenced by shame. In the 1980s and ’90s, however, victims started filing civil lawsuits against the dioceses. Church leaders across the U.S. kept those lawsuits almost invisible by quietly settling out of court, while demanding nondisclosure agreements for the price of settling.
$750 Million in Compensation
According to BishopAccountability.org — a nonprofit that tracks clergy sex abuse — church leaders paid out nearly $750 million from the early ’80s through 2002. That kind of money can buy a lot of silence.
The Church’s Bankruptcy Strategy
That kind of money can also make an institution take action to better limit the compensation it needs to award sex abuse victims.
Bloomberg reports that a review of court filings by lawyers for churches and victims in the past 15 years shows the U.S. Catholic Church has shielded more than $2 billion in assets from abuse victims in bankruptcies.
“The Catholic church’s shielding assets to keep from properly compensating sex abuse survivors victimizes them yet again,” said attorney David Matthews, whose law firm represents clergy abuse survivors in several states. “But there are, potentially at least, ways to penetrate the corporate veil. We have filed suit naming the Holy See as a defendant in a priest sex abuse case. We strongly believe that responsibility for child sex abuse in the local Catholic church extends all the way to Rome.”
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