Our work involving priest abuse began in the mid 1990s when Kelly Clark brought two of the first cases in the modern wave of childhood sexual abuse cases against the Catholic Church (along with a companion case against the Boy Scouts of America). It took seven years of hard litigation beginning in 1994—including a successful argument before the Oregon Supreme Court—before the cases were settled. But in Fearing v Bucher and Archdiocese of Portland, and Lourim v Swenson and Boy Scouts of America, Kelly won a landmark victory and judicial recognition of some of the realities of child abuse, including the “grooming” process used by child abusers. The case was especially significant for its original theory that “institutions of trust” such as churches and youth organizations should be liable for child abuse in their midst. It was this victory that helped swing open the door for the wave of litigation against the Oregon Catholic Church in 2001, which many observers believe has made the Church, and other institutions of trust, much safer for children.
We have brought, and won, dozens of claims against the Paulist Fathers, the Franciscans, the Redemptorists, the Jesuits, and other religious orders, as well as half-dozen dioceses around the country. In 2004 when the Archdiocese of Portland filed bankruptcy, we advocated for over 40 victims, securing settlements for all of them. Along the way, the lawyers working for the survivors of abuse, including Kelly Clark, defeated an attempt by the Archdiocese of Portland to claim that hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate was not owned by the Archdiocese, but rather by individual parishes.
Not satisfied simply to obtain monetary justice for our clients and keep the secrets of child abuse hidden, we fought, and won, a battle to force the Archdiocese of Portland to open the files of abusing priests, so that the public could at last understand what the bishops knew and when they knew it, concerning child abuse in the Church. This agreement is one of the few times anywhere in the nation where a diocese has been forced to “open up the files.”
We continue to advocate for victims of priest abuse in Oregon and around the country.