News6 Investigates

Actions

Part 2: Law could eliminate statute of limitations in civil cases involving sexual assault

Survivors of sexual assault by priests ask for legislation to be passed
Advocates seek to expand law
Posted at 5:11 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 17:07:28-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Churches across the country, including Corpus Christi, have survivors of sexual abuse by priests asking for information about their alleged assailant.

Patrick Wilkes has requested secret files on his father, James Wilkes, who was a priest in Corpus Christi but he said they have not been provided.

He also said his father sexually abused him, his siblings and others.

"He was a priest of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, ordained in 1950," Wilkes said. "During that time, he became a part of a group of priests that went across the river into Mexico and had their way with prostitutes and children, because they could."

Wilkes said he has received little to no response from the diocese, and that Father Wilkes' name was not on the Diocese 2019 list of credible sexual abuse offenders.

Robert Pastor is an attorney in Arizona who represents survivors of sexual abuse by priests and has eight pending lawsuits against the Diocese of Corpus Christi. He said this practice is far too common.

"If this is a church that wants to accept responsibility for the children that were sexually abused, if this is a church that truly wants to be truthful and transparent and wants to foster healing for these men and women whose lives sometimes were destroyed, why are we keeping this secret?" Pastor asked.

The diocese declined our request for an interview, and said they had provided an interview after releasing the list in 2019.

They added they have taken great strides to ensure the safety of children, establishing The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People handed down by The Vatican in 2002.

They also said they established a victim's assistance office, where people can report abuse with a 24/7 hotline.

But, some survivors like Wilkes said that does not fix the issue.

"The pain never goes away," he said. "But it's possible to learn to cope with it, and to live and even occasionally thrive."

There are efforts being made to change the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Originally, the statute was 15 years. In 2019, it expanded to 30 years.

This legislative session, which begins Jan. 10, features a proposed bill that aims to remove the time limit that would allow survivors to seek civil action in these cases.

It's a move that some experts, like Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, say may empower more victims to come forward.

"The average age is 60-65 of survivors of child abuse," Patti Koo, chapter leader of SNAP San Antonio, said.

She said this legislation is important because it allows victims time to recover memories of the abuse, or gives them time to decide whether they want to pursue civil cases.

The bill would also remove the statute of limitations against those who shielded or protected the alleged perpetrators and could give victims and their attorneys' access to secret archives.

Koo said this is one reason why the bill is not guaranteed to pass.

"The Catholic Church has spent a lot of money lobbying against these types of bills," she said. "There's a study that came out from the Houston Chronicle several years past, how much money they spend. And now we have the Southern Baptist Convention that will really be out there fighting this as well."

SNAP said that at times, all victims want is to see the evidence and to know that they weren't alone. A concept that is echoed by Pastor.

"Some of those men and women ultimately make the decision that, 'I don't want to come forward.' I'm satisfied knowing that he's been exposed, he's been outted, that this is here," Pastor said.

Your proposal for a story regarding abuse within the church is something The Dioceses of Corpus Christi has recently addressed. Because of this, an interview with Bishop Michael Mulvey regarding this topic we respectfully decline. However, I think the following response will answer your questions.

To give you some background, in January of 2019 Bishop Michael Mulvey released a list naming 26 clergy members with ties to the Diocese of Corpus Christi who had credible claims of sexual abuse to minors. It’s been almost 4 years since that list was compiled and released. Immediately after the release, Bishop Mulvey gave interviews to all local news outlets that reached out and talked openly about why the Diocese compiled and released the list, the deep remorse for all involved and how we can move forward. The intention was two-fold: to be transparent by bringing to light something that was shameful and incredibly painful and to also acknowledge the wounds of the past and begin healing.

In direct response to your inquiry- we have many safeguards in place to prevent abuse of any kind. Just to bring you up to speed, the Diocese has an entire office committed to this effort: The Office of Safe Environment. That office was created in 2002 to establish and implement ministerial boundaries for everyone: from priests to the lay individual. Safe Environment training includes educating those in our Diocese on how to spot and report suspected abuse to law enforcement and/or to Child Protective Services.

In addition, before anyone can minister, work or be a volunteer in our Diocese, one must have a completed criminal background check and complete a Safe Environment course in person or online. To date, the Diocese of Corpus Christi has background checked over 35,600 individuals and almost 40-thousand people have been safe environment trained. These are people who have any kind of role working with or around children in our Diocese (whether they are actively volunteering, serving the church or paid staff). The focus of our support is to meet today’s human struggles and to help lead our parishioners to find trusted adults, speak to them and know that they deserve to be safe.

Since the list was released nearly 4 years ago, we can say the focus has begun to shift towards expanding family support to anybody who has suffered abuse of any kind, no matter where it occurred. At present, the office of victim assistance remains open to receive anyone who wants to report abuse with a 24/7 hotline.

Finally, to answer your last question…. what do we do when abuse of a minor is reported to us? In addition to what I mention above, the Diocese, along with every Diocese in the US, follows guidelines outlined in a charter created in 2002 by the Vatican- The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This charter created detailed protocol and safeguards aimed entirely at preventing sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy in the future. The charter calls for the whole Church to recognize and prevent recidivism as referenced in your email about perpetrators being allowed into Ministry.

All these efforts have created a more vigilant church. It has created a greater awareness in people throughout the Diocese and with their help we work constantly towards prevention. Vigilance is an important area of preventing any kind of abuse.

We are grateful to all those in our Diocese: clergy, religious and laity who are dedicating themselves to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving many areas of human need.
Spokesperson Katia Uriarte Philipello

RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, there is help. The first thing experts recommend is to contact law enforcement.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has several resources, including an office in San Antonio.

The Diocese of Corpus Christi has an email address that is staffed 24/7, reportabuse@diocesecc.org

For part one of this series about the Diocese of Corpus Christi, click here.

Black History Month