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The U.S. Bishops gather for Mass at their Spring meeting in June 2018. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews
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Here comes RICO: Abuse victims launch class action suit against Vatican, US bishops

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 16, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A class action suit has been launched against the Vatican and the American Catholic bishops, citing a federal anti-racketeering law known as RICO.

Six American survivors of child sexual assault filed a civil suit on November 13 against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Holy See. The plaintiffs are Timothy B. Lennon; Mark S. Belenchia; Alfred L. Antonsen, Jr.; Joseph Piscitelli; Shaun A. Dougherty; and Mark Crawford. Suing for themselves and fellow victims, they have asked for a trial by jury.

The complainants are suing the Vatican both as a foreign state, as an “unincorporated organization,” and as the “head of an international religious organization.”

The preamble to the case includes an overview of the ongoing sex abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church, noting all classes of people who have been mentioned in connection with the scandal.

“This case is about the endemic, systemic, rampant, and pervasive rape and sexual abuse of Plaintiffs and Class Members perpetrated by Roman Catholic Church cardinals, bishops, monsignors, priests, sisters, lay leaders, members of Catholic religious orders, educators, and other of Defendants’ personnel, members, agents, and representatives ... while serving in active ministry—with the knowledge of Defendants,” the complaint reads.

The plaintiffs’ first charge will be depressingly familiar to readers:

“Rather than safeguarding and protecting Plaintiffs and Class Members—who were minor children at the time—Defendants protected the abusive Clergy, took extraordinary measures to conceal their wrongful conduct, moved them from parish to parish, without warning church members or the general public, thereby further facilitating their predatory practices, failed and refused to report the abusive Clergy to law enforcement or other responsible authorities as required by law, and—incredibly—even promoted the abusive Clergy. Defendants’ wrongful acts are ongoing and continuous.”

The document then cites the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

“This also is a RICO case brought pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-68,” the complaint reads.

“Plaintiffs’ Complaint is grounded on multiple violations of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes embodied in the RICO statute prohibiting ‘schemes to defraud’ where the fraud is ‘representational’ or where the fraud amounts to ‘cheating and defrauding’ without representations. This Complaint alleges violations of the federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes in both ways.”

In an attempt to make the Catholic Church fit the terms of the RICO Act, the complainants describe her as an “Enterprise.”

“The RICO enterprise alleged in this Complaint is the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, an unincorporated association-in-fact,” the documents says and goes on to enumerate every diocese, eparchy, and religious order in the United States, as well as a number of priests.”

The document continues, “Each diocese is headed by a bishop who, in turn, is a member of Defendant USCCB.”

“The RICO Defendants conducting and participating, directly and/or indirectly, in the affairs of the Church Enterprise to injure and harm Plaintiffs and Class Members via the mails and wires are Defendant USCCB and Defendant Holy See,” it claims.

The 84-page document claims that “wrongful conduct” by the Vatican and the USCCB “flagrantly violates...laws of the United States, the common law of the states, federal common law, Catholic Church canon law, and customary international law, including treaties and conventions adopted and signed by Defendant Holy See.”

The lawsuit was filed at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. by attorneys Mitchell Toups, Richard Coffman, Joe Whatley Jr., and Henry Quillen. According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), these lawyers have been involved with similar lawsuits on behalf of sexual abuse victims.

As a result of their lawsuit, victims are hoping to win “compensatory damages, economic damages, punitive damages, RICO treble damages, medical monitoring, pre- and post-judgment interest, and attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and court costs.”

They are also hoping that their actions will force the Holy See and the USCCB to “comply with various state statutes requiring them to report the abusive Clergy to law enforcement or other responsible authorities, terminate the abusive Clergy, identify the abusive Clergy to the general public so that parents may protect their children going forward, release documents evidencing such Clergy abuse to achieve transparency, and such other relief the Court deems just and proper.”

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