Jeff Anderson joins new legal practice in UK dedicated to rooting out clerical sexual abuse
A leading US litigator who has spent more than 20 years suing US-based paedophile priests and the church officials who moved them from parish to parish is joining a new legal practice dedicated to rooting out clerical sexual abuse in the UK.
Jeff Anderson has filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic church in the US and thousands more against individuals and organisations, including those belonging to other Christian denominations.
His Minnesota firm says it is “aggressively committed” to child protection through civil litigation and he believes there is significant scope to expand this activity in the UK.
Anderson, whose firm recently represented all 23 plaintiffs in a suit that led to a US diocese filing for bankruptcy protection, will be working with Ann Olivarius, a solicitor who is already based in London, to expose offenders and seek justice for victims.
In an interview with the Guardian, ahead of tomorrow’s launch of the new practice, Anderson said there remained a clerical culture of secrecy in the UK.
“The protestations of regret from the Catholic church in England and Wales is something more than they have done in the past. The past was marked by silence. We applaud any child protection measures that are made but the church still operates in secrecy.”
Anderson said he was “deeply concerned” and had “every reason to know” that the Catholic church was still “recycling offenders” – moving them from parish to parish – and that paedophile priests were not being turned over to law enforcement authorities.
“We want them to come clean and disclose the names of all offenders. I have been tracking what has been happening here and across the globe. Under instruction from the Vatican every bishop and religious superior is required to keep secrets. The problem is as prominent here as it has been in the US.”
The Catholic church in England and Wales reviewed its child protection policies following a 2001 report, requested by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and again in 2007. Child abuse allegations in England and Wales fell in 2009, leading one senior priest to claim it was evidence that the church was dealing robustly with issues of safeguarding young people.
It also emerged relatively unscathed from the clerical sex abuse scandals that swept through mainland Europe last year, when a series of allegations and revelations saw bishops resign, investigations begin and remorse flow from high-ranking officials.
But Olivarius warned against complacency, saying there was no research to suggest there had been less abuse in this country than elsewhere.
“We have been approached by a lot of people since the statute of limitations were removed. Because of the nature of the crime people often feel disabled. They are hard to represent, they don’t want to be represented. I wouldn’t be surprised if an awful lot of people come forward now. It’s like a snowball effect.”
She also said that the flourishing of survivors groups – such as the Lantern Project and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood – was a development that would also help victims.
The launch will also be attended by a US Catholic priest Father Thomas Doyle, who will release information on the treatment facilities used to rehabilitate paedophile priests.