When details of sexual abuse allegations against two prominent college assistants -- Penn State's Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse's Bernie Fine -- became public last month, the news hit sports like a thunderbolt. But sports as an environment for sexual abuse is hardly new. Experts say it has all the significant ingredients that can lead to such abuse: coaches have close relationships with children and unsupervised access to them, while holding a position of trust and authority that can often keep children from reporting the problems to their parents or other authority figures.
WASHINGTON -- A former National Hockey League player who rocked the Canadian sports world with sexual abuse accusations against a former coach is the marque witness at a congressional hearing Tuesday examining such abuse in the wake of the Penn State scandal. The story of Sheldon Kennedy, whose NHL career began in 1989 with the Detroit Red Wings, was back in the news last week after his former coach in junior hockey pleaded guilty to sexual assaults involving two other former players, including NHL star Theoren Fleury. The coach, Graham James, already served more than three years in prison for abusing other players he coached, including Kennedy. James was quietly pardoned for his crimes in 2007, leading to public outcry.
For almost two decades, lawyers at the Bridgeport firm of Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney have taken seriously the complaints of child sexual abuse plaintiffs. The firm took on the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and Hartford's St. Francis Hospital, winning millions in damages. Now, the details of a long-running grand jury investigation have rocked Penn State University with a stunning child sexual abuse scandal. Public opinion and awareness has markedly changed since the late Paul Tremont, a founding partner, filed his first suits against pedophile priests in 1993. "It was a very unwelcoming climate for these kinds of cases," says partner Cynthia Robinson, who has focused her practice on child sexual abuse cases.
As the Penn State sexual assault scandal continues to unfold, the story takes place against a media and legal backdrop that has evolved considerably in light of previous sex abuse cases. Plaintiffs attorneys and legal experts who have worked with victims of sexual abuse note the sea change in the way such cases have been covered and litigated. And the changes in how the media and the public discuss these topics have had a significant impact on how judges and juries think and act. "Thirty years ago if you brought a case against a revered institution"--be it Penn State, the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts, says trial attorney Raymond Boucher--"the jury would look at you with a jaundiced eye." Over the past three decades, the media, too, have become less jaundiced, says Boucher, a partner at Kiesel Boucher & Larson and the lead attorney for plaintiffs who brought clergy sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles--which garnered one of the largest settlements of its kind with the church in 2007. Cindy Robinson's Connecticut firm, Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney, was among the first to start litigating clergy
The Similarities Between the Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal and the Catholic Church Sexual Abuse ScandalAfter seeing this quote in an Op Ed piece written by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times "Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel, says, is "an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully." Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program." Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney starting looking at he Penn State sex abuse scandal and the clergy sex abuse scandal and found that they have an alarming amount of similarities. In both instances:
Grand jury report on Jerry Sandusky former Penn State coach accused of sexual abuse.
Penn State Officials Covered Up Alleged Sex Abuse Scandal, Prosecutors Say Two high-ranking Penn State administrators failed to report accusations of sexual abuse of young boys by a top former assistant to legendary football coach Joe Paterno, and then lied about it to a grand jury, state prosecutors said Monday. "Their inaction likely allowed a child predator to continue to victimize children for many, many years," State Attorney General Linda Kelly said of Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the school's senior vice president for business and finance. Curley and Schultz appeared Monday in a Harrisburg courtroom, where a judge set bail at $75,000. They weren't required to enter pleas but they had to surrender their passports. They are charged with lying to a grand jury investigating former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, 67, who is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years through his charity for at-risk youth. "The children are scarred for life," Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan told reporters during a press conference with Kelly on Monday.
By James E. Connell, JOurnal Sentinel Oct. 24, 2011 An excellent opportunity exists for the Catholic bishops in the United States to begin rebuilding the people's trust in them that has been severely damaged because of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis. This opportunity is found in the audit process to verify that each diocese actually is in compliance with the requirements of the charter that was originally established by the bishops in 2002 to enhance the protection of children from sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Remember, whether committed by force or by seduction, every act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is a crime, both in civil law and in church law. So in discussing sexual abuse of minors by priests, we are not talking about the actions of schoolyard bullies. We are talking about the actions of criminals. This must be the starting point for addressing this crisis and scandal in the church. Therefore, the audit process is a critical component in the church's effort to protect children and young people. Here are six concrete steps to improve the audit process to verify that each diocese in the United States actually complies with the charter.
Catholic Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City has just been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse. The offender, one of his priests, apparently was a photographer of some considerable energy. According to the indictment, as reported by the New York Times, the bishop for some six months failed to report evidence found on the priest's laptop, and thus he is charged with ignoring "previous knowledge regarding Father Rattigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Rattigan's laptop, including a child's naked vagina, upskirt images and images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Rattigan." Apparently during the six months, the priest went to children's parties, hosted an Easter egg hunt and presided -- with the bishop's permission -- at the first communion of a young girl. The bishop is fighting back. "We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense." No one is guilty until judged by their peers, but one gathers that the facts of the matter are not really in dispute. The question is whether the bishop is legally liable. Apparently a police officer was told about one of the pictures and opined that (even though the kid was naked from the waist down) he did not think that it would meet the definition of child pornography and that was that for six months. In a way, this sort of thing has become so common that one is almost inclined to read with a sigh and turn away to other things. Which of course is precisely the action we must not have. Wickedness never ends and we must be ever vigilant. Edmund Burke was right: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Thank goodness the legal authorities in Kansas City are doing their duty and making sure that whatever has happened it is brought into the light and the guilty punished. And even if the guilty are not necessarily found legally culpable, then they are still shown to be morally guilty and deserving of condemnation. And thank goodness the legal authorities are recognizing that those in charge have responsibility, especially if through their actions they allow bad states of fares to persist.