Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Gillian Flaccus/The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — The election of a new pope could help heal the wounds left by a Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis that has savaged the church's reputation worldwide. For alleged victims, much depends on whether Pope Francis disciplines the priests and the hierarchy that protected them.
Michael Duran, a plaintiff in a sex abuse settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, holds up pictures of himself when he was a child during a news conference to announce details of a nearly $10 million settlement of their lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Thursday, March 14, 2013. Duran was molested by ex-priest Michael Baker, who is now in jail after pleading guilty pleaded to a dozen sex charges. The U.S. church's challenges include recovering from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which has resulted in the bankruptcies of prominent archdioceses and cost the Church in America an estimated $3 billion in legal settlements. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Plaintiff Michael Duran, left, who received nearly $1 million in a sex abuse settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, speaks during a news conference on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Los Angeles. Duran was molested by ex-priest Michael Baker, who is now in jail after pleading guilty to a dozen sex charges. The U.S. church's challenges include recovering from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which has resulted in the bankruptcies of prominent archdioceses and cost the Church in America an estimated $3 billion in legal settlements. Duran's wife, Margarita, center, and his attorney John Manly look on. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Some hope the Jesuit pontiff's well-known humility and social benevolence will lead to an era of greater transparency and renewed faith. A greater number, however, are calling on the new Roman Catholic leader to defrock U.S. cardinals who covered up for pedophile priests, formally apologize and order the release of all confidential church files from every diocese.
Adding to their distrust are several multimillion dollar settlements the Jesuits paid out in recent years, including $166 million to more than 450 Native Alaskan and Native American abuse victims in 2011 for molestation at Jesuit-run schools across the Pacific Northwest. The settlement bankrupted the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.
It's unclear how much direct experience Pope Francis, an Argentine cardinal, has had dealing with sexually abusive clergy in Latin America, where the scope of the abuse scandal has been more muted. When the scandal broke, however, he made it harder for people to become priests and now 60 percent are eliminated, his authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, told the AP.
In contrast, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI was in charge of the Vatican office that handled clergy abuse cases before becoming pope and was a guiding force behind several sex abuse policies enacted under Pope John Paul II.
Those policies haven't been enough for most victims, who say they will scrutinize the new pope and his actions.
Elsie Boudreau, a Yup'ik Eskimo, was abused for nine years by a Jesuit priest in a tiny village in northern Alaska.
She settled her case in 2005 and now works as a social worker helping 300 other sex abuse victims in Alaska. She has since learned that Vatican officials had been aware of her alleged abuser since before she was born, she said.
"If Pope Francis were to defrock him and all the other perpetrator priests and all those who covered up the crimes and send a clear message to everybody else in the church I would be like, 'Hmm, OK, there could be a change,'" said Boudreau, 45, who now lives in Anchorage. "But I don't believe that will ever happen. There's no track record."
Other alleged victims called on Pope Francis to immediately order the release of all confidential records on pedophile priests in order to cleanse the church and make amends.
Confidential files have been made public through litigation in some cases and have been released under court order in others, including in Los Angeles where a judge ordered more than 10,000 pages of priest personnel files be made public in January after a five-year legal battle over privacy rights.
Still missing, however, are the files for about 80 priests who belonged to various religious orders — including the Jesuits — and attorneys are pressing for their release, said Ray Boucher, the lead plaintiff attorney.
In many other dioceses, alleged victims still don't know everything the church knew about their abusers.
"The pope has an opportunity to bring about true justice, change, and transformation in a church torn from scandal and the rape of children," said Billy Kirchen, who is one of 550 plaintiffs fighting to see files from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. "Real change has to come from the pope."
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