Also, while the recent Supreme Court decision is a win, Anderson isn’t yet calling it a victory.
"There's no doubt that it knocked down that first barrier that the Vatican put up that said, 'We're above the law,' but I also don't doubt that it was only the first barrier," says Anderson, who is representing a client who filed a fourth lawsuit last week that targets the Holy See. "I've no doubt they will put up every possible technical impediment to deny transparency and every legal requirement.
"It's taken us eight years to get the Oregon case to this point. The church has already shown they're willing to spend a great deal of money, expend a great deal of energy and use any influence they can to keep their secrets, but lies can't last forever."
Legal experts and victim advocates also say that, while the Supreme Court decision is a win in cases which specifically name the Vatican as a defendant, it has little effect on other abuse cases. In Ohio, for example, hundreds of abuse cases have died on the vine because the state courts have followed a strict interpretation about the statute of limitations.
Dan Frondorf, president of SNAP's Cincinnati chapter, saw his case end because of that interpretation.
"It's great that discovery in the Oregon case can finally go forward and we can find some of the other abusers that the church has successfully covered,” says Frondorf, now 45 years old, who says he was abused by a priest while attending Elder High School. “Any time more information comes to light, when you shine a light into dark places, ultimately kids will be safer.”
But like countless others, his case ultimately was lost because of the statute of limitations. Ohio courts maintain that the limitation extends to 12 years from the time of the abuse, or the abuse victim's 18th birthday, regardless of a number of factors. It's a hard line, considering that most victims of priests were young and it takes them time to gather the strength to come forward, Frondorf says.
"I didn't come forward for a long time because I thought I was this man's only victim," he adds. "When it became clear that he abused many others, I finally felt that I needed to come forward. By then, it was too late."
Since then, Frondorf has been involved in SNAP, helping counsel other victims and working with other advocacy groups to get the state legislature to change Ohio law to loosen the limitations. So far, they've been unsuccessful.
That inflexibility has given Ohio a bad reputation, Anderson says.
"Ohio's interpretation of the law, by both the courts and the legislature, is arcane,” he says. “It has to be the worst state in that regard, or if not the worst, it's among the worst. Their interpretation has made it almost impossible for survivors to expose their abuse. At a time when even the Vatican has said the statute of limitations has to be reexamined, when the church acknowledges that it needs to be updated, Ohio still adheres to the old thinking and methodologies.”
In most other states, allowances are made for victims of sexual abuse who have suppressed memories, discovered the extent of abuse by habitual predators or various other factors that could delay reporting the crimes. But in Ohio, the 12-year limit is hard and fast and looks to remain so for the near future.
"I never thought that I'd say the Vatican would be more forward-looking than a state government, but in this case it certainly is," Anderson says.
In Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, there are no lawsuits pending against the church for sexual abuse at the hands of its clergy and certainly none naming the Holy See as a defendant. But new allegations of abuse keep arising, Jones claims.
"We're still working to get Ohio to move on the statute of limitations, but until we get them to, we continue to work with victims,” Jones says. “We still have new people coming to us all the time. We get 80-year-old men, men who have never told their wives or anybody else that they were abused, that finally get the courage to come forward. They're well beyond the statute of limitations. It's taken them a lifetime to get over what happened to them."
Frondorf has lost two friends to suicide, men who were unable to cope with their abuse. Most victims, he says, are left to deal with the ramifications of abuse quietly.
Although he credits the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for the efforts its has made — fingerprinting and doing extensive background checks for its personnel — he says he'd like to see more from the leaders of the church he grew up in.
"The big thing is there's still a lack of openness,"
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