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The Church dismissed sex abuse allegations against a priest. Now there are six more victims.
After the Archdiocese of San Francisco said a claim against Father Daniel Carter was "unfounded," six new victims have come forward with similar allegations
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Whenever we learn about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, it usually comes with the understanding that justice may be elusive. In many cases, the abuse happened so long ago that the legal system prevents victims from taking their attackers to court. Some states have responded by reopening a window for filing sexual abuse lawsuits that had previously been closed due to statutes of limitations.
In California, that window has turned out to be more revealing than anyone knew.
The Bay Area affiliate of NBC just published a remarkable story by Michael Bott, Candice Nguyen, and Jeremy Carroll about how the Church ignored an allegation of sexual abuse and allowed the priest in question to continue working, only for him to strike again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and again.
Their piece centers around Danielle Lacampagne, who told Catholic leaders that she had been abused by Father Daniel Carter when she attended Ecole Notre Dame des Victoires, a private school in San Francisco, in the 1970s.
Carter had come over to her family’s house for dinner. When it was time for the 8-year-old Danielle to go to bed, she went to say goodnight to Carter, who was alone in the room.
“I was wearing my pajamas and he took his hand and he put it up my pajama shirt and felt my chest area. And then he took his hand and put it down my pajama pants and felt my bottom area and vagina area.”
It wasn’t until 2002, in the midst of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church sex scandal, that she realized she had been a victim of abuse. Carter had never faced any repercussions for what he did and was still working for the Church. So Danielle reported the decades-old incident to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, then filed a police report, then filed a lawsuit.
She did everything she knew to do as a social worker whose literal day job involved protecting children.
Carter was temporarily placed on leave while the claim was investigated… but the lawsuit was settled out of court (with no admission of guilt). The Church later told Carter that, after reviewing the allegations, the Archdiocese believed they were “unfounded.” So the priest was allowed to return to work.
That would have been the end of the story… But in 2019, the California legislature passed a bill opening up a three-year window for adults to file lawsuits relating to childhood sexual abuse if, in the past, they had been locked out from doing so due to existing statutes of limitations.
The bill allowed people as old as 40 to file sexual abuse cases and allowed people older than that to file similar lawsuits up to five years after they “discovered that the psychological injury or illness… was caused by sexual assault” since it’s not always obvious at the time of the incident(s).
That window was open from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2022. In that time, NBC reports, “more than 1,500 lawsuits were filed against Catholic institutions in Northern California alone.”
Six of those lawsuits come from other victims of Carter who say they were abused around the same time as Danielle:
They accuse the longtime priest in separate lawsuits of sexually abusing them as children at different moments in his career, between the 1970s and 2000.
One of the new lawsuits alleges Carter repeatedly fondled an eight-year-old girl attending a San Francisco Catholic school in 1981. A second plaintiff alleges the priest did similar things to her around the same time. The abuse described in those cases closely mirrors Lacampagne’s own account.
Obviously, Danielle’s lawsuit wouldn’t have changed what those other victims say happened to them. The bigger takeaway is that if the Church had in place a better system for reporting allegations of abuse and a better system to review those allegations, children could have gone to Church leaders as soon as something happened. Church leaders could have taken immediate action. Carter could have been fired (or worse).
Instead, whether through incompetence or malice, the Church dismissed Danielle’s concerns and let Carter roam free, from church to church, always maintaining his access to children.
An attorney for two of the newer alleged victims says all of this should cause people to question how seriously the Catholic Church takes sexual abuse and why their “internal review” process is a sham: “This is an institution that has shown us time and time again that it cannot be trusted to self-police itself.”
Instead of protecting the kids, the Catholic Church writ large chose to protect its reputation. The pile of bodies just grew in the process. It took a secular government, run by Democrats, to show the kind of moral courage Church leaders never had and pass a bill putting power back into the hands of alleged victims.
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