Clergy sex abuse victims and an attorney announced they would post roughly 8,500 pages of long-secret Catholic records about child-molesting California clerics and the church supervisors and colleagues who ignored, minimized, concealed and enabled their crimes.
A Boston-based archive called BishopAccountability.org has just posted the 8,500 pages of documents that recently were produced by the Franciscan Friars of California to 25 Santa Barbara clergy sex abuse victims as required by a 2006 settlement.
To see the documents, go to: www.bishop-accountability.org/franciscans/
For more than four years, Franciscan officials fought in court to stop this disclosure, which is the largest disclosure of abuse documents by any religious order. At each step, however, the courts ruled that the public deserved to know not only of the rapes and abuses by Franciscan clerics but the longtime cover-up of those crimes by a battalion of Franciscan managers, many of whom still occupy prestigious positions within the order.
The archive posted today includes priest files of nine admitted or confirmed perpetrators, all Franciscan priests and brothers, and depositions of 25 supervisors, survivors, perpetrators, and witnesses. Much of the abuse occurred at St. Anthony's Seminary, which closed in 1987, and at Old Mission Santa Barbara. The abusers were accused in lawsuits of fondling, masturbating, orally copulating and sodomizing children from the 1950s until the early 1990s.
“This is a victory for all of the brave men and women — terribly abused as little boys and little girls — who have forced this historic disclosure,” said Bob Eckert of Santa Barbara, a survivor of child sexual abuse by former Franciscan Robert Van Handel and a party to the suit that generated today's publication of documents.
“Bob and his fellow survivors fought to make these records public to protect children and warn parents in the towns where the abusers are now living. We are trying to reverse the harm caused by decades of refusal by the Franciscan hierarchy to report these men to law enforcement,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Timothy Hale of Nye, Peabody, Sterling and Hale, LLC.
“Today's release is especially notable because it was so vigorously opposed by Franciscan officials in their attempt to have secrets of child abuse remain hidden,” said Tim Lennon, survivor and a California leader of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). “We urge anyone who saw or suspected abuse to call the police today, regardless of when the incident occurred."
According to Hale, who has been gathering evidence for the last decade, Santa Barbara has had one of the highest per capita concentrations of accused clergy pedophiles in US history.
Hale has identified 41 accused child molesters transferred to and/or allowed to live in Santa Barbara County from 1960 to the present. Of those, 27 were Franciscan priests or brothers from the Province of St. Barbara, including the nine perpetrators whose files are being made public today.