Today The Baltimore Sun has chosen the survivors of sexual abuse and their supporters seeking to hold the Catholic Church accountable as the 2022 Marylanders of the Year. Photographs of two of our pro bono clients, Michelle Stanton and Donna Vondenbosch, are prominently featured. We could not be prouder of them, and all of the other survivors who have mustered the courage to stand up against public and private contempt, and their own demons, to make their voices heard.
All of this comes against a backdrop of a four-year investigation by the Maryland Attorney General’s office that is poised for release. The 450+ page report chronicles 80 years of sexual abuse committed against 600 young people by nearly 160 priests and Church officials. Those numbers alone are show-stopping.
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But even with the tide of public opinion having swung in their favor, the Church continues to demand secrecy. The Church is paying the legal fees for those who wish to keep the findings from the report secret, claiming related grand jury materials must remain private. Indeed, in that same proceeding, the Judge overseeing the court docket has issued a gag order which prevents Jenner Law from commenting on any of the filings.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Justice Louis Brandeis famously said. And sunlight – transparency of the report and the proceedings – is what the survivors need to heal and obtain a modicum of justice. And even with the changing tide of public support, our clients and all of the survivors of clergy abuse, are continually being abused when the report remains sealed, and they cannot even comment on their attempts to obtain justice in the court.
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Hundreds of people came forward during the Attorney General’s four-year investigation – an investigation, by the way, that was funded by Maryland taxpayers. Our clients Michele Stanton and Donna Vondenbosch said following a recent press conference in our office, “How much longer do we have to live before the horrors that we and others endured – in our Archdiocese schools and parishes where we were supposed to be safe – are brought to public light? We endured reliving those horrific events in interviews to help advance the Attorney General’s investigation. We did with the expectation that the Report would be public, to encourage other survivors to speak up, and to make perpetrator accountability possible.”
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Gemma Hoskins, whose role in the Netflix Documentary, The Keepers, also a client of the firm, commented on the efforts of survivors to keep pushing for accountability. She said, “I’ve now spent most of my life in this fight, on behalf of those who were shamed and silenced. Our fight for justice lives on and this court action is a demonstration that we haven’t lost faith that justice can prevail, and we haven’t lost hope. There can be no closure for those taken, the survivors and their loved ones – and our beloved community – as long as the Grand Jury report remains a secret. Secrecy is what allowed the abuse to flourish in the first place and it cannot continue.” Ms. Hoskins was a student at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School, where the abuse was rampant, and where she was inspired by the late Sister Cathy Cesnik, to become a teacher. Sister Cesnik’s murder in 1969 remains unsolved.
David Lorenz, the Director of Maryland’s Chapter of the Survivors Network for those Accused by Priests (“SNAP”), also a client of the firm, commented: “We commend the work of the Maryland Attorney General which over four years conducted a detailed investigation of Catholic child sexual abuse in Maryland. It is time that its work concerning the Baltimore Archdiocese be made public in the name of justice. It is time for those findings to meet the light of day.”
Our clients and others have stood up, using their voices, when others who have not survived the abuse, or are still too ashamed or face the prospect of alienation in their families and churches, remain silenced.
As the Baltimore Sun editorial concluded: “The people who’ve come forward speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Their stories deserve to be heard. This load is too heavy to carry alone, the weight should be spread on the shoulders of us all.”
Way to go, Baltimore Sun. You got it right.