The lawsuit names three priests–two of whom are dead–from the Phoenix diocese.
Two Arizona residents are suing the Roman Catholic Church, accusing their parish of enabling their abuser and covering up his crimes.
The Associated Press reports that both lawsuits were lodged Monday. While the allegations concern abuse which occurred decades ago, they were filed under a recently passed Arizona law. The law extends the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse, giving them until their 30th birthday to file civil lawsuits.
Along with extending the statute of limitations, the same law opened a one-time window for anyone who missed the new cut-off.
According to attorney Robert Pastor, who helped file the new complaints, litigation is one way to keep the Roman Catholic Church accountable for clergy child abuse.
“We are able to uncover the pattern and practice of transferring [sexually abusive] priests,” Pastor said. As LegalReader has reported in other articles detailing claims against the Catholic Church, it’s long been common practice for predators—whether clergy, volunteers or administrators—to be transferred to different postings rather than be disciplined, terminated or reported to law enforcement.
“That’s what these lawsuits are about,” said Jeff Anderson, another attorney for the victims. “The Catholic Diocese and head of the Salvatorian order transferring these priests and allowing predators access to kids.”
“We want the lawsuits to allow the full disclosure of all offenders known to the top officials that have been hidden and kept secret,” Anderson added.
One of Pastor’s suits, says The Associated Press, alleges years-long abuse by then-Rev. Joseph Henn, who preached at the St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish in Phoenix, AZ, between the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Henn, adds The A.P., faces the lawsuit alongside a criminal investigation. He’s currently charged with child molestation and an assortment of sex crimes.
Henn—who’s since been stripped of his rank within the Catholic Church—fled the United States in 2003, after he was first indicted. He returned to Arizona last year.
The second lawsuit, filed by a female plaintiff, accuses Revs. Donald R. Verhagen and James Bretl of sexually abusing her in the same period of time as the other suit. Both Verhagen and Bretl have since passed away.
The Catholic Church has long been criticized for its refusal to properly address child sexual abuse. Complaints have been levied all the way to the Vatican, which has been accused of shielded high-ranking clergy from investigation and passing up opportunities to bolster cooperation with law enforcement.
In its own statement, the Phoenix diocese refused to comment on the specifics of either lawsuit. However, it did note that no allegations against Verhagen or Bretl were ever brought to its attention.
The diocese said it is “disheartened by any allegation of clergy abuse, and stands with all those who grieve and suffer because of the abuse caused by clergy.”
“The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin, and we continue to pray for the healing of survivors and their families, and to work for truth and justice.”
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