Sunday, February 23, 2003

Clergy abuse victims push to hold church responsible

By Lori Burling
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Phil Cogswell is a second-generation survivor.

"I'm the son of a survivor. My father was abused by a priest just like I was," Cogswell, 47, of Boston, said Saturday during the annual conference for The Linkup, a national advocacy group that helps victims of clergy sexual abuse deal with the emotional aftermath.

"I was an easy prey with the lack of a father," said Cogswell, noting that his father battled depression, alcoholism and a fear of the church because of his abuse.

Cogswell was one of nearly 200 people who attended the three-day conference sponsored by the Louisville-based group, which has become a national voice urging churches and religions to take responsibility for abuse cases.

Dozens of people searched a white banner that lined a wall naming more than 1,300 priests who have been accused or convicted of sexual abuse.

The banner, provided by victims' advocacy group SurvivorsFirst of Boston, included the Revs. Louis E. Miller, Daniel C. Clark and James Hargadon, who face criminal charges of felony sexual misconduct in Kentucky.

Across the nation, hundreds of priests have been accused of sexual abuse. In Kentucky, more than 200 civil lawsuits have been filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville by plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused by a clergy member or church employee when they were children.

The group was established in 1991 by abuse victims and has more than 3,000 members, according to its Web site.

The group's vice president spoke Saturday of his plans to build a retreat center for clergy abuse victims in western Kentucky.

The Rev. Gary Hayes of Cloverport, Ky., who says he was abused by a priest as a child, said he has made an offer on land for the center, but still needs to raise thousands of dollars. "I'm hoping for a miracle," Hayes said.

A workshop at the conference held by Minnesota lawyer Jeff Anderson discussed the legal obstacles abuse victims face when trying to hold their abusers accountable.

Anderson represented his first clergy abuse victim nearly 20 years ago, and hundreds of clients have followed since then.

"We're not against religions; we're against cultures that create a safe haven for predators," Anderson said. "Our enemy is the clerical cultures of secrecy."

Anderson's primary message was encouraging survivors to file lawsuits and lobby for new legislation. "This year, there has been a seismic shift in public opinion. Lawmakers are now ready to help," he said.

Anderson said though he has won many cases, dozens of others have been tossed out of court because they had not been filed within the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases varies from state to state. However, the majority do not allow a victim to take any civil or criminal action if the abuse occurred more than five years ago.

"I've never lost a case because the abuse was not true," Anderson said. "The barrier in child abuse cases is the statute of limitations. We have to tell lawmakers that it needs to change so they can protect our children."

Sue Archibald, Linkup president, recently lobbied at Kentucky's General Assembly for two bills that would help child abuse victims.

A Senate bill to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits appeared to have reached a dead end last week. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said the bill was unlikely to come up for a vote.

A second bill was introduced in the House that would require clergy to divulge confessions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities. The bill has not moved out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Some said they attended the conference in an effort to stop repeat abusers from continuing to serve as clergy members.

"I'm vocal about this. I don't care what it does to me as long as I can save one child," said Bob Ethen, 50, of St. Cloud, Minn., who says he was abused by a priest while serving as an altar boy.

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