What is clergy abuse?
Clergy abuse is when a priest, minister, or pastor sexually abuses a boy or a girl. I have had approximately 40 of those cases in the last 20-plus years. Our firm is prosecuting eight of them now, and I have sued diocese from Memphis to El Paso, to Las Cruses to Santa Fe. With The Assembly of God Church, we had some very big claims involving a children’s pastor who was sexually abusing boys, and it is gone beyond that. We have also had a number of Boy Scout cases. Boy Scout Masters nationally have had a history of being sued for some bad Boy Scout masters who have abused young boys.
But, the clergy abuse involves a priest, a pastor, or a minister who is in a position of authority next to God. They like to tell the children that as they sexually abuse little boys and little girls. We have had both boys and girls cases and they are very sad. It is a special responsibility, so we are very sensitive to our clients’ feelings and what they are going through. We understand that they have been traumatized by their experience, and then must go through the litigation process reliving that trauma. It is a very difficult and emotional process for the clients and the family.
How did you start working with the victims of the molestation?
A very well respected and prominent colleague in town asked me to represent her brother who had been sexually abused by a priest of the Diocese of El Paso when he was a boy. So, I was very proud that she had confidence in my abilities to represent her brother. That is how I began in this field during the very early 90s, and at present I have had 40 cases.
Why would someone usually have an attorney for this type of claim?
It is very important to have an attorney. Most of these abuse actions occurred many years ago. Statistically nationwide, the average age that a person is able to come forward to admit and talk about the abuse is during their late 40s to early 50s. So, the diocese or the church or the school institution, whoever it may be that employs the perpetrator, typically bases their defense on the fact that the people involved are dead now, or you do not have any real proof of it, plus you have waited too long to bring your claim and the statute of limitations has passed. There are very complex issues in that regard. We are never going to prove these without fighting to hold them in court on the statute of limitations, and working very hard with special investigators to find witnesses.
Who is covered in these type of claims, and is it just the victim or the victim’s family who can act on their behalf?
It can be both. Typically, we work very close with the victim. The far majority of them are married, and the far majority of them have not told their spouses by the time they come to us. We work through that process. The spouse is an important part of the process and it is very difficult and very emotional. These men and women relive the trauma of that sexual abuse from when they were a child as they go through the litigation. This is something that the lawyers have to be very sensitive to while working with these clients.
I use an expert, Father Thomas Doyle from Virginia, who, for in excess of 30 years as a Catholic order priest, has made it his career in life to study the history of what the Catholic church, from the Vatican to every diocese in the U.S., knew and when they knew it with respect to pedophile priests who abused little boys and girls.
Father Doyle is a great historian and a great expert witness in these cases. We also use Richard Sipe in California and his wife, Dr. Marianne Benkert, the psychiatrist, to assist us. Our firm consults a forensic psychologist, Dr. William Foote in Albuquerque, a forensic psychologist, Dr. Joel Dvoskin in Tucson, and a forensic psychologist, Dr. Erin Nelson in Phoenix. These specialists assist in evaluating my clients and their injuries, their anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also serve as expert witnesses as to the damages, injuries, and mental trauma that my clients are suffering.
Why would you urge someone to choose your firm for help with this this type of matter?
Well, again, it is experience. Our firm has had 40 cases in a little over 20 years. I have worked with Windle Turley, a renowned older lawyer in Dallas, who did very well in a big case against the Dallas diocese. I have worked with lawyers all over the country from Memphis to Albuquerque, where we compare notes and we exchange papers. I am friends and have been referred a case by the lead lawyer representing many plaintiffs against the San Diego diocese. He referred me a case here in my area, El Paso and New Mexico. As a result, our firm is very familiar with lawyers around the country that also specialize in this field, and we have had much experience in this field.