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Sex abuse survivors seek vindication following Baltimore church probe

The legal path forward for survivors of sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore could look different for each individual.
Catholic church in Baltimore, Maryland
Posted at 10:58 AM, Apr 05, 2023

The Maryland Attorney General's Office is expected to release a report today exposing decades of sexual abuse allegations within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The report names more than 150 priests who have either been charged or accused of sexual abuse over the past 80 years, as well as anyone who may have helped bury these accusations.

There are a lot of different things survivors might want to do with this report, such as find vindication for their pain and suffering or seek restitution and file a lawsuit.

“Lots of people are afraid to come forward because they think they're the only one who has been victimized," said attorney Rob Jenner, who represents the Maryland chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "And here we find out that through a 456-page report, that there are others who can help corroborate the report, and it's very fraying and it's very vindicating, and that's how accountability and transparency begin.”

Four years in the making, the Maryland Attorney General’s report identifies 158 priests accused of sexually abusing more than 600 children since the 1940s. It also includes the names of 43 priests who weren't previously disclosed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. However, one stipulation a judge made for releasing the report is that many of those names had to be redacted first.

“The names are secondary to the impact that this abuse has had over the Baltimore community, that's the first thing we need to rectify, and how can we get these people access to the courts,” Jenner said.

He added that the report itself is not enough for individual survivors to file their own lawsuits.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori proceeds into the Basilica in Baltimore

Bombshell report details child sex abuse in Baltimore Archdiocese

The Maryland attorney general's report documents more than 600 cases of abuse over 60 years.


“You need evidence, you need testimony, you need credibility before a jury. A jury may or may not believe you, but the opportunity in and of itself to tell your story, that is really the vindication that so many of our clients are looking for,” Jenner said.

Whether survivors seek vindication or restitution, they also want justice.

“Certainly to the extent that there are still child predators still out there, who have not been asked to be accountable for their crimes, indictments should follow, no doubt,” Jenner said.

Survivors have been waiting decades for that to happen, but Jenner believes the report's release will help bring about one form of justice: the passage of Maryland's Child Victims Act of 2023.

The act would remove the civil statute of limitations on a survivor's ability to file a lawsuit. The Senate and House of Delegates have already passed each version of the Child Victims Act, Senate Bill 686 and House Bill 1, as it makes one step closer to Gov. Wes Moore's desk for his signature to become law.

Jenner said survivors could file lawsuits against the perpetrators, if they're still alive, their enablers or their employer, the archdiocese.

Parishioners worship during a mass

Catholic Dioceses throw support behind compensation fund for victims

One bishop told reporters he's prepared to work with state lawmakers to establish a fund that would be administered by a neutral third party.


However, several archdioceses across the country are so inundated with lawsuits that they've filed for bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile, Jenner asserts bankruptcy doesn't prevent survivors from being compensated for their pain.

“Understand that these archdioceses, they don't shut down and go home, I mean they still exist, they still continue to work, they still have funds, they still have sources of income,” Jenner said.

Jenner said it can slow down the process of getting full and fair compensation, but it doesn't stop survivors from being able to collect as there are attorneys who specialize in clergy bankruptcy.

“There are steps that can be taken to make sure that you have some access to funds that are available. Bankruptcy doesn't just mean you shut your doors, you close up, and you walk away. There's restructuring that gets involved, and debtors still have a right, and creditors have a right to make an application for compensation for funds that do exist,” Jenner said.

Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori previously released a statement which read in part, “While the Attorney General’s report will likely be a painful reminder of a time in the life of the church when it failed to protect children and failed to act as it should when learning about allegations of abuse, I know, and I hope you know, that that is not the church of today.”

Lori has said he recognizes the grave harm caused by representatives of the Church and that it will take time to rebuild and earn trust.

“This is a difficult time for the faithful and, most importantly, for the victim-survivors. Please join me in praying for the suffering to end, for the restoration of hope and for the ever-strengthened path toward peace and healing,” Lori said.