Decades of Coverup Resulted in Continued Sexual Abuse in BirminghamWhen the Boston Globe first published a piece about priest sexual abuse in the Boston Diocese, Cardinal Bernard Law insisted that the accusations against former priest John J. Geoghan constituted an isolated case of abuse. However, as we have learned over the years, there was a pattern in the Archdiocese of Boston (and others) of covering up accusations of sexual abuse by offering quiet settlements to the parents of victims for decades. Once parents accepted a settlement offered by the church, they were required to sign agreements never to make the accusations public. The Church would then quietly assign the accused priests to different areas of the country. There is every reason to believe that the Birmingham Diocese acted in the same manner as Boston and others who faced similar challenges.
Abused Birmingham Children Began Speaking out as They Grew Older, Placing the Scandal in the Public EyeChildren tend to not tell parents or other adults about sexual abuse because they don't think anyone will believe them. Unfortunately, too many parents are unaware of some signs that could indicate that their child is a victim of sexual abuse. For decades, many children who suffered abuse by a priest or other clergy members hid their stories. Once these children became adults, however, and more of them started going public, thousands of other victims found their voices, and what appeared to be an isolated incident turned into a full-blown public scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church to its core.
Birmingham Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal Becomes PublicWhile there are hundreds of news stories that indicate sexual abuse was occurring in the Catholic Church for decades, it was not until 1985 when the first scandal was made public. While this initial incident was specific to Louisiana, it did not take long before the scandal rocked several states and became public in many places around the world. It was not until 2018 that the Birmingham Diocese finally came forward with a list of priests accused of sexual abuse. Four of the six names on this list were priests who had since passed away. The remaining two had been defrocked, one in 1985 and one in 2002. Unfortunately, once the Birmingham Diocese was pushed for additional disclosures, it turns out the abuse allegations were not limited to these six priests; in total, 11 priests had claims filed against them.
Victim Payouts Not Uncommon to Silence AllegationsWhile the Birmingham Diocese has paid out relatively little in claims, as little as $45,000, the public doesn't really know the full extent of potential victims. One priest who was accused, Rev. Charles V. Cross, had more than 16 assignments beginning in 1960 through the date he was permanently relieved of his duties in 2002. Information from BishopAccountability.org states this came long after he was prohibited from serving at a parish in 1985 due to numerous sexual abuse complaints that had been lodged against him. Payouts were common among parishes who wished to keep allegations of abuse quiet, so there are no readily accessible records that would allow the public to determine how many other priests had allegations buried through the use of payouts and transfers to other parishes.
Statutes of Limitations Work Against Victims of Birmingham Sexual AbuseSexual abuse victims seldom come forward when their abuse is occurring. In fact, this has been proven time and time again through the years. Some reasons that victims share for not coming forward include because they feel ashamed, they have been threatened by their abusers, or they fear that no one will believe them. This phenomenon can be problematic since nearly every state has strict time limitations for when victims must report their abuse, including sexual abuse or rape. These statutes of limitations work against victims, because even when victims reported the crime, there is little chance that the perpetrator of the abuse would actually face charges. This may be changing on a broad scale, however, particularly since the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and other large-scale sexual abuse scandals have swept the nation. CHILD USAdvocacy is working to change how the statute of limitations is applied in cases of child sexual abuse. The organization is doing this by publishing op-eds, lobbying local and state leaders, and more. Last year, 38 states and the District of Columbia were considering changes to their statutes of limitations, according to an investigative report issued by The Atlantic.
Did Victims' Demographics Play a Factor in Disclosures?An audit of sexual abuse allegations that were investigated independently by Stonebridge Business Partners may provide some insight into why the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal went un-publicized for so long. Some of the organization's findings show us the demographics of the abuse victims:
- 82 percent of the victims were male.
- 59 percent of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 14.
- 19 percent of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 17.
- 22 percent of the victims were 9 years old or younger.