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US Catholic abuse victims to sue Vatican

May 14, 2019

Five Americans who were sexually molested by Catholic priests will sue the Vatican. They aim to force the Catholic Church to release the names and details of thousands of priests involved in alleged abuse cases.

A priest with his hands folded wearing a cross
Image: Imago

Five US men who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests plan to sue the Vatican in an effort to get the Holy See to release the names of thousands of priests involved in abuse cases.

The lawsuit will be formally announced in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Tuesday, an attorney for the group said, and it comes just days after Pope Francis announced new measures to force clergy to report sexual abuse.

The lawsuit will seek the release of some 3,400 names of priests who were referred to the Vatican for "credible cases of abuse," along with their "files and pertinent histories," according to a statement released ahead of the filing.

Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson said the suit, which will be filed in a US federal court, aims to show the Vatican engaged in a cover-up to shield top officials, such as former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt.

Three of the five plaintiffs are brothers who were abused by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer as recently as 2012 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and child pornography in connection with his contact with two of the boys, who were 12 and 14.

Read more: Catholic Church 'cover-ups must stop!'

Interview with a sexual abuse survivor

17,000 complaints of sexual abuse in US

Pope Francis has struggled to quell the backlash following the revelations of thousands of sexual assault cases by priests, many of which have involved minors, and the subsequent decadeslong cover-up.

A grand jury investigation into dioceses in Pennsylvania published in 2018 revealed a systematic cover-up by Church officials that sought to shield "over 300 predator priests" who had abused more than 1,000 child victims.

Between 1950 and 2013 the US Catholic Church compiled some 17,000 complaints of sexual abuse that allegedly took place from 1950 to 1980, with approximately 6,400 clerics involved.

As a result, several senior Church members in the US have been forced to resign, including Cardinal Bernard Law, who died last year.

Read more: Opinion: After Cardinal Pell verdict, Catholic Church must reform

Damaging documentary

The release of a new documentary about pedophile priests in Poland shook the country over the weekend, prompting Church hierarchy to apologize and remove one priest.

Titled Tell No One, the documentary was released on YouTube on Saturday; by Monday it had racked up 7 million views.

The film details how a priest convicted of abuse was allowed to continue working with young people.

"I apologize for every wound inflicted by the people of the Church," Archbishop Wojciech Polak said in response the film.

The Vatican's ambassador to Poland, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, said Pope Francis was "very concerned" and had expressed his sympathy and solidarity with the victims.

Poland's Catholic authorities said in March that they had recorded cases of some 382 clergymen who reportedly abused 625 victims under the age of 18 since 1990.

jcg/cmk (AFP, AP)

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