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Bishops: In public, humility. In private, arrogance.

Posted by Richard M. Serbin on May 2, 2019 in Sexual Assault


Originally published in The Tribune-Democrat.


Few records so clearly show how arrogant and callous bishops can be.

I’d never seen the document before, despite representing victims of clergy child sexual abuse for over 30 years, and despite having scoured thousands of pages of church records, purposely hidden away in the “secret archives” of the church.

The document was generated because of the first-ever trial against a Pennsylvania child predator priest, bishop, and diocese. I represented the victim. That case was the first and only one in state history to result in a jury verdict in favor of the victim. It was also the longest such case ever, having been dragged out by Catholic officials for more than 20 years.

So maybe I shouldn’t have reacted so strongly when I stumbled across the document only months ago in the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing decades of clergy sex crimes and the complicity and enabling by the church.

Seeing it revealed publicly, 25 years after it was written, sent a shiver up my spine.

The document was a January 31, 1994 letter from then-Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Joseph Adamec to all his brother bishops in Pennsylvania. He was giving them a heads-up that Michael Hutchison’s child sex abuse and cover-up trial against Father Francis Luddy, Bishop James Hogan, and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown would begin that very day.

Marked “confidential” and copied to the Pope’s top U.S. envoy, Adamec’s letter told his colleagues, “[Our] position is that no offer of settlement should even be considered.

“It is our position that the Diocese and its Bishop acted appropriately and thoroughly in each case of alleged pedophilia.”

Think about that. My client, who’d suffered immeasurably from years of sexual abuse as a child, wasn’t worthy of any settlement offer, not even $100. Why? Because every single diocesan employee who had seen, suspected, or knew about the crimes against children committed by Father Francis Luddy and other child predators within the Diocese had “acted appropriately and thoroughly.”

I’m still astounded by the bishop’s arrogance.

Thank goodness impartial jurors disagreed and proclaimed otherwise by their verdict.

There’s a reason I’m bringing up this letter now.

In February, Bishops and Cardinals from around the world attended a well publicized summit in Rome to address the child sexual abuse problem within the Catholic Church.

Clearly it is a systemic problem. Sadly, absolutely nothing specific was announced addressing the issues of full transparency of the church’s “secret archives”; punishment for those church leaders that participated in and were complicit in the conspiracy to protect known child predators; or the Vatican’s participation in the duty to provide justice to and compensation for the years of torment they caused thousands of child sexual abuse victims.

So when those carefully crafted, self-effacing words of contrition come pouring from the Vatican, remember Adamec’s letter and the arrogance it showed. This arrogance still afflicts the Catholic hierarchy. It’s the biggest reason why this scandal continues.

Despite vehement opposition by bishops and dioceses, states across the country are now recognizing that child abuse survivors often suffer in silence for decades before they feel comfortable coming forward with their stories, and amending their laws accordingly.

The New York State Legislature, for example, just passed a bill that would extend the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse until the victim turns 55 years old, and provided a one year window of opportunity to file civil claims against the abuser and his protectors regardless of age. New Jersey is currently considering similar legislation.

It is time for the Vatican to publicly acknowledge its complicity in causing these crimes against children and encourage legislators to follow New York’s lead by passing laws that give abuse survivors the chance to expose predators and seek justice in the civil courts.

It’s time for the Vatican to pay for the child abuse crisis it helped promote.

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