Victims of alleged clergy abuse sue Vatican to release names, files of alleged offenders

Victims of alleged clergy abuse filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Vatican. However, instead of seeking financial damages, they are calling for the Catholic Church to come forward with more information regarding alleged abusers. 

In the lawsuit, the survivors are requesting the Vatican release the identities and files of the thousands of offenders known only to the Vatican, including top officials accused of sexual abuse, and report all the evidence to authorities.

The filing came in response to Pope Francis’ latest papal announcement, requiring Catholic priests and nuns to report all cases of sexual abuse to church authorities. Attorney Jeff Anderson says the proclamation would only continue to allow a cycle of secrecy within the church.

“It's the Vatican and it's the Pope, present and past, that have made conscious choices to keep this secret,” said Attorney Jeff Anderson at Tuesday’s press conference. “And because they won’t, we stand with five courageous survivors who made the decision to stand up against the Vatican to do what they should have done to protect kids."

Of the five survivors taking part in the lawsuit, four of them lived in Minnesota at the time of the alleged abuse when they were minors. 

Tuesday’s press conference marked the first time three of the men, Luke Hoffman, Stephen Hoffman and Benedict Hoffman, spoke publicly about their experience. They say former Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis priest Curtis Wehmeyer sexually abused them. The men had previously gone unnamed in the criminal case against the Archdiocese. 

“I stand here today for my brothers, my wife, but most of all for my son,” said Ben Hoffman. “I never want to go into a church and question whether my son is safe.”

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what my brothers and I went through and continue to go through every single day,” said Stephen Hoffman. “I want the Vatican to do what’s right and bring everything into the light. I want kids to be safe.” 

In response to the lawsuit, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis released the following statement: 

“Having met with scores of survivors of clergy sex abuse, I understand the anger and frustration at the Church that is apparent in the lawsuit filed today by Jeffrey Anderson.

“On July 20, 2016, the Archdiocese appeared in Ramsey County Court and admitted to wrongdoing in the way it dealt with Curtis Wehmeyer. On that same day, I publicly stated: ‘[W]e failed--in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. … We failed to give priority to the safety and wellbeing of the children he hurt over the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese.’

“I am profoundly sorry for their suffering, and I am very grateful to the Hoffmans for sharing their stories with others and, in one instance, with me. I thank them for their courage. I thank them for being staunch child protection advocates.

“It is my hope that the resolution of the criminal and civil cases, as well as the bankruptcy case, combined with concrete child protection steps and restorative justice actions already underway here, will bring greater healing to this local Church. To further these efforts, the Archdiocese has recently hired a victims/survivors outreach coordinator, a survivor herself of abusive behavior on the part of a priest, to assist us in our outreach efforts.

“I remain grateful to Pope Francis for his recent legislation establishing clear procedures for holding priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals accountable for their actions.”