Eight days this month — May 6 to 13 — may turn out to be the most consequential in the state for the next phase of the long-running clerical sex abuse scandal.
First, Anderson & Associates released a list of 311 clergy and religious accused of abuse in New Jersey. Then, Pope Francis codified changes for the worldwide church to address sex abuse and hold people accountable. Lastly, Gov. Murphy signed into law legislation that ensures a longer period for victims of sexual abuse to sue and he made it retroactive, as well.
NEW LIST RELEASED
“The Anderson Report on Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese and Dioceses in New Jersey,” released May 6, is more than twice as long as the list of 188 names released by the Catholic church earlier this year. Anderson’s list is longer because it includes religious — including three nuns, deacons and priests from New Jersey — who abused elsewhere in the country.
The law firm’s introduction in the report asserts that it relied on “publicly available sources,” like media reports and court cases. It also claims that these mostly are “just allegations” and everyone is “innocent until proven guilty.”
I found listed a priest from the Archdiocese of Newark whose allegation was false and a grand jury declined to indict him. Including him with others whose cases are probably credible is a gross injustice.
Asked about it, Patrick J. Wall — an advocate with Anderson’s L.A. office and former Benedictine priest who was in the order for 12 years — could not explain why the priest was included.
“We include all open cases as the litigation moves forward,” he said. Yet, in this case, the case was closed.
In 2010, a detective from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office along with a town policeman went to the priest’s rectory to inform him of an allegation. The priest hired his own lawyer and appeared before a grand jury. Months later, an abuse victim advocate showed up in town seeking dirt on the priest so he informed his parishioners and the archdiocese that he was never charged. It made the newspapers and that apparently justified Anderson including his name.
It makes me wonder if more innocent names are included in the Anderson report.
POPE’S PERSONAL DECREE
Pope Francis moved quickly after the February global summit on clerical abuse at the Vatican. On May 9, he issued a Motu Proprio, a personal decree, “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), a worldwide order to the church. It establishes easily accessible reporting systems, clear standards for pastoral support of victims, timely investigations, whistleblower protection, and involvement of the laity. It also allows national bishops’ conferences to account for local circumstances.
But the biggest change is to give power to the Metropolitan Archbishop, who loosely oversees a region, to investigate a bishop’s cover-up.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, is the Metropolitan Archbishop for New Jersey. In less than one year, since the Theodore McCarrick allegations were made public last June, Tobin has moved the dial by getting all the bishops in the state to speak with one voice. They started an independent victim compensation fund for abuse victims and released the names of credibly accused clergy. He also presided over three reconciliation services at Sacred Heart Cathedral where abuse victims spoke.
Tobin spent Easter week at the Vatican, reportedly to help shape the Pope’s plan.
Tobin has been more transparent and effective than any U.S. member of the hierarchy. He also admitted that his chancery staff allowed him to be blindsided by the McCarrick saga by not disclosing previous financial settlements given to his victims.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Finally, on May 13, Murphy signed a law that extends the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse claims. It poses potential financial hardships for the church, creating a two-year window for parties to bring lawsuits based on sexual abuse previously disqualified by a statute of limitations. The law goes into effect Dec. 1; the church’s compensation fund closing date is Dec. 31.
This encourages victims to bypass the fund and hold out for suits, which means more money for law firms and is probably why Anderson published its list: to advertise for potential clients.
For 36 years, clerical sex abuse has plagued the U.S. church while bishops engaged in cover-ups and worse to protect the church’s reputation. Billions have been paid in settlements, causing several dioceses to declare bankruptcy. That preventive measures have been securely in place since 2002 has not dissuaded some victims groups, who desire to punish the church at all costs.
The Archdiocese of Newark responded to all the events above by stating: “We are committed to the comprehensive healing of those harmed and we will continue our policies aimed at protecting children from abuse.”
Actions back up their words, but some people simply will never trust the church again.
The Rev. Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, 07030, FAX: 201-659-5833; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @padrehoboken.