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Painful accounts of sexual abuse shared by survivors at Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy hearing

Emotional testimony heard at Archdiocese of Baltimore's bankruptcy hearing
Emotional testimony heard at Archdiocese of Baltimore's bankruptcy hearing 02:57

BALTIMORE -- Eight survivors opened up on Monday about the sexual abuse they endured at the hands of Catholic clergy during an emotional hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore's bankruptcy case.

Archbishop William Lori and federal judge Michelle Harner listened to agonizing stories about how the abuse has impacted their lives.

The Baltimore Archdiocese declared bankruptcy in September before a new law, the Child Victims Act of 2023, was set to go into effect. The legislation would have opened the church to several lawsuits.

The Maryland Attorney General's Office released a 450-page report that identified 156 priests, deacons, Catholic teachers and seminarians within the Archdiocese accused of assaulting over 600 victims.  The incidents detailed in the report date back to the 1940s.

Monday's hearing was the second in the case.  The first took place in April, when six survivors testified, the Baltimore Banner reported.

More than 300 survivors of clergy abuse have filed claims against the Archdiocese of Baltimore with the May 31 deadline drawing near.

"These stories, they were gut-wrenching," survivor Teresa Lancaster said. "These things ruined lives."

The survivors detailed the long-lasting trauma clergy abuse has had on them, including one who told the judge he and his family saw priests as an "extension of God."

Another testified, "nobody ever came to help me. This was my cross to bear and I had to bear it alone. I cry every day for the life that might have been."

Details in court mirrored much of a years-long investigation published by the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

Lancaster said it's important to demand financial responsibility from the archdiocese.

"That's the only thing the church is going to understand," Lancaster said. "Hit them where it hurts, in the pocketbook."

Paul Jan Zdunek, the Chair of the Creditors Committee, which represents survivors, said another meeting with archdiocese officials was planned for Monday afternoon.

He says they have been said and done all the right things so far.

"Truly beyond the money, how can we make sure this doesn't happen again? So, a lot of our conversations are around that and making sure that not one more child gets on this stand and has this experience," Zdunek said.

Other survivors criticized Archbishop Lori and Catholic church officials for challenging the new law.

"You heard what these people did," survivor Frank Schindler said. "He (Lori) bears responsibility. The entire Roman Catholic Church bears responsibility and let's try not to forget that."

Lori and Archdiocese officials left court as survivors were speaking but told WJZ they were grateful to those who spoke in court.

"Simply the impact sexual abuse had on the lives of the individuals who spoke," Lori said.

"They say they care. I don't believe it," Lancaster said. "I don't believe it for one minute."

Survivors encourage other victims to come forward.

"They believe in silence. We believe in telling the truth," Schindler said.

Multiple survivors told the judge they only came forward recently despite abuse happening decades ago because of the new law.

The Creditors Committee Chair stressed survivors can file a claim anonymously.

Archbishop Lori released this full statement:

"The testimony offered today by victim-survivors shows their courage and furthers our understanding not only of the terrible harm they endured as innocent children but also its lasting impact on their lives. Hearing the stories of victim-survivors — both those told today, and those shared with us in many other meetings over the years— drives the Archdiocese of Baltimore's commitment to strong and effective child protection policies. Today's hearing only strengthens our resolve never to allow the evil of the past to operate inside our Church. Hearing these stories renews our collective determination to guard against this evil and do all we can to protect those entrusted to our care. I continue to offer my heartfelt apology to the victim-survivors for the trauma they suffered and the damage to their lives."  

"The Church's strong child protection policies in place today cannot remove the life-altering pain victim-survivors have endured, but please know this: Allegations of abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement and the alleged perpetrator is temporarily removed from ministry pending the results of the investigation. Outreach is simultaneously extended to the victim. The Archdiocese has a zero-tolerance policy in place for anyone credibly accused of abuse. Anyone determined to be credibly accused is permanently barred from all ministry in the Church. All employees, volunteers and youth are trained to detect and report suspected abuse. In addition, all employees and volunteers undergo mandatory background checks and safe environment training."

"I am grateful for the advocacy of the Survivors Committee, the bravery of the victim-survivors, and the willingness of Judge Harner all of which made today possible. While nothing could reverse the harm suffered, it is my sincere prayer that survivors can find healing through this process and solace in our joint commitment toward the safety of children."

"Today's hearing was the most recent opportunity for the Archbishop to hear from victims about their abuse, consistent with his longstanding practice of offering a meeting, part of the Church's pastoral response to those who have courageously reported their abuse. That response also includes comprehensive policies that seek to root out abuse from the life of the Church and support victim-survivors in ways that contribute to their healing."

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