BALTIMORE, Maryland — As the U.S. bishops entered the last public part of their 2018 fall general assembly, centered largely on the clergy sex abuse crisis, six clergy sex abuse survivors announced Nov. 14 a lawsuit against the prelates’ main organization, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a news conference near the hotel where the bishops were holding their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Minnesota lawyer Jeff Anderson gathered three survivors from California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania to talk about the suit filed in federal district court in Minnesota late Nov. 13.
The firm said in a news release that the lawsuit seeks “court ordered disclosure of identities of all offenders and their histories known only to the bishops who continue to keep this information secret.”
The suit names Joseph Mclean of Minnesota, Paul Dunn of New York, Phillip DiWilliams of Pennsylvania, Darin Buckman of Illinois, and Mark Pinkosh and Troy Franks of California as plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that the USCCB concealed “the known histories and identities from the public, parishioners and law enforcement of clergy accused of sexually abusing children across the country.”
The USCCB did not release a response but typically wouldn’t respond to a lawsuit.
McClean, one of the survivors at the news conference, said he chose to join the lawsuit because he wants the bishops to “come clean.”
“I’m here to protect kids” and to give victims the opportunity to heal, said McClean, who said his abusing priests brushed his pelvis against him during a retreat and kissed McClean when he was 17. Years later, after taking legal action to obtain documents about the priest, he said he discovered that he had done the same to others but was never stopped.
Attorney Jeff Anderson said there were others out there like that priest, and they pose a “danger that is real and imminent.” That’s why the lawsuit demands full disclosure of all known offenders in the 196 dioceses across the country, including the 120 dioceses that have not released a list of clergy who may have offended, he said during the news conference.
The church “maintains” a public hazard, said Anderson, who also announced a lawsuit against the Vatican in early October and has taken similar legal action over the years against dioceses around the country.
Also present in the room was a man Anderson identified as Deacon Bob Sondag of Peoria, Illinois, who said he served as a victim assistance coordinator and said “the checks and balances put in place in the 2002 Dallas charter have been compromised,” referring to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” a set of procedures adopted by the bishops to address the sex abuse crisis.
“At times, it seems that protecting the institution is a higher goal than caring for the victims,” said Sondag, reading from a statement.
Asked whether it was opportunistic to be unveiling the lawsuit in Baltimore while the bishops were meeting, Anderson said, “Yes, it is opportunistic,” but added that it was an opportunity taken in the interest of protecting children.