GUEST COMMENTARY: Missouri should protect its children, not their abusers

Monday, February 8, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:50 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Last month, many child sex abuse victims and children's advocates were distraught when the Missouri Supreme Court overturned two recent laws designed to restrict sex offenders and safeguard kids. But to me it felt like, in the words of Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again.”

In January, the state’s highest court ruled that where convicted child predators live and what they do on Halloween cannot be limited "retroactively." It’s at least the fifth time in recent years that the court has rejected laws intended to help expose the guilty and protect the vulnerable.


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Back in 1992, the court used the same rationale when it said that I had no legal recourse against the man who assaulted me as a child and the institution that protected him.

As a devout young altar boy and Catholic school student, I was repeatedly molested by my pastor. Time and time again, he’d take me on out-of-town trips – skiing in Colorado, swimming in Florida, canoeing in Arkansas, hiking in Kentucky, and beach-combing in North Carolina.

Then, while I was asleep, hundreds of miles from home, I’d wake up and find his hairy, sweaty, 6-foot-4-inch body on top of mine, pushing and rubbing and eventually ejaculating. Or, I’d rouse to find his hands roughly groping my private parts. I lay paralyzed and confused, unable to speak.

My naive, overwhelmed mind and psyche couldn’t deal with the horror. Unconsciously, I coped with the trauma by repressing the memory of each incident shortly after it happened. I awoke the next morning with no recollection whatsoever of what he had done to me just hours before.

Eventually, those awful memories began flooding back. Worried that my former pastor might still be hurting kids, I contacted church officials, who responded tersely and callously, offering me no consolation or guidance. Learning that it was too late for criminal charges, I filed a lawsuit under a then-new Missouri law that allowed for “delayed discovery of injury.”

But just like last month, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the rights of dangerous predators trumped the rights of wounded victims. The justices said that the law I sued under, which gave victims more time to sue their perpetrators, applied only in child sex crimes which happened after that law took effect.

With each of these rulings about these laws, the justices are, no doubt, just doing what they consider their legal duty: honoring the Missouri constitution, which prohibits "ex post facto" laws. Still, the basic message that child sex abuse victims, young and old, take away from these decisions, is: “Stay silent. Give up. You’re trapped. And predatory adults matter more than innocent children.”

For those of us who deeply care about stopping devastating child sex crimes, there are only two options now. We can fruitlessly assail the court, which won’t change a thing or protect a child. Or we can lean hard on our lawmakers to amend Missouri’s archaic, predator-friendly constitution so that victims, lawmakers and judges can better expose child molesters and restrict their proximity to vulnerable kids.

David Clohessy of St. Louis is the national director of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ( He can be reached at or 314-566-9790.




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Annie Stith February 8, 2010 | 9:51 a.m.

The archaic laws of Missouri have long been a problem for child abuse survivors. I was unable to take action against either my father, or the priest at my parish. (And, being a rare female victim, the church didn't even believe me.)

(Report Comment)
Judy Jones February 8, 2010 | 10:22 a.m.

David's story is not unique or uncommon. It is so sad that thousands of victims of sex abuse are barred from the courts.

Our number one responsibility as Missouri citizens is to protect our children.

Pedophilia is an addiction, and to this day, there is NO cure for the adults who sexually molest kids.

Pedophilia is similar to being addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. However, while similar, these other compulsive addictions differ in a HUGE way. With alcohol and drugs the person destroys their OWN body with the alcohol and drugs. With gambling the person destroys their OWN financial well-being. To be sure, friends and family are secondarily affected by the alcoholic’s, drug addict’s, gambling addict’s self-destruction, but in the case of the pedophile, someone else, another human being, a "CHILD" is destroyed. The pedophile "needs" a child, not a drink or a snort or a pair of dice to feed their addiction.

Because this addiction needs another human being to satisfy the unchecked cravings, we are faced with an extremely serious problem, just as serious as murder. The lifelong harm for a child who has been sexually abused, is worse than murder. They have to live with the pain ... forever

This is why the Missouri laws need to be changed to make it easier to expose the predators and to keep them far away from children.

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Gloria Sullivan February 8, 2010 | 11:40 a.m.

I am an 80 yr. old married woman with 4 children, all grown now but raised in the RCC. Six grand children and one great granson, age 3. Only two grandchildren are still in the RCC.

My husband and I left this evil place in 2001 and couldn't be happier to have rid our selves of the generational brainwashing.

All our children have left and are happy, except a married son with 2 children who were in the throws of first communion at the time. They are gradually trying to find the right thing to do and pray every day what is the best exit for them to take.

The sexually abused children, who were and still are to this day, experiencing the evils of being sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests, etc.,are; "SPIRITUALLY MURDERED", no matter how you look at it.

They have believed in the person of authority(the priest,) who claims to be Jesus here on earth to them... No other Christian Church claims these supernatural powers.

How any one can stay and keep contributing to these "HIDEIOUS CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY", is beyond any normal person's comprehension. Get out and let this [socalled church ]die of it's own accord, in hell where it belongs.

(Report Comment)
Daniel Frondorf February 8, 2010 | 12:16 p.m.

The Missouri legislature obviously has no comprehension of the particular kind of trauma that only a victim of sexual abuse by a religious authority can know. The fear of not being believed by your parents, and the fear of the loss of the love a parent has for a child are what motivates a child to keep quiet about the abuse he or she endured at the hands of a Catholic priest, or any other religious leader or authority figure. Typically the abuser has also gained the trust and respect of the child's parents and the church and school community that surrounds the child's life. How can a young child, or even teenagers, make the decision to speak an unspeakable accusation against one so revered, so respected, so admired, so popular? To do so would be to jeopardize the love and respect of the parents, the inevitable accusations that would be heaped upon the child accuser, and the disdain of the community. No wonder it takes victims of clergy sex abuse so long to come to grips with the horrors - usually well into adulthood. Sadly, the Catholic Church has protected its own, leaving the child victim for dead, spiritually, and has relied on the obsolete statutes of limitations as their primary line of defense. Even when the church decides that there is sufficient evidence to suspend or defrock the priest, no public disclosure is made about the whereabouts of the suspected sexual predator, enabling them to be free to re-offend - outside the church's jurisdiction, of course, where seemingly it is OK with the church if a sex offender preys. I thank David Clohessy and SNAP for being there for me when I was in a place to finally deal with the sex abuse I endured by a Catholic priest when I was a teenager. SNAP saved my life by believing the unbelievable, and I stand proud as a member of SNAP with my fellow letter day abolitionists, trying to rid each state of archaic and obsolete statutes of limitations on sex crimes against children.

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SISTER MAUREEN PAUL TURLISH February 8, 2010 | 12:42 p.m.

The Missouri legislature like the legislatures of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Colorado and others has let the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church call the shots in effecting stopping the needed reform of the childhood sexual abuse statutes.

The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church should be leading the parade for the protection of children instead of bringing up the rear. They are not doing that and this is a scandal when one thinks that it is now the 20Th anniversary of the Holy See's signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In effect, the institutional Roman Catholic Church has put the reputation of a religious denomination before the welfare of children and their families. They have enabled and protected sexual predators while threatening and intimidating victims and their families.

An institution has been essentially corrupted and those responsible refuse to face that reality and deal with it.

They also refuse to hold the enabling bishops responsible for what they have done and that is appalling. And then they wonder why good people are leaving the church faster than they're entering it.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
Board Member, Delaware Association for Children of Alcoholics
New Castle, Delaware

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Tim Dempsey February 8, 2010 | 2:17 p.m.

Maybe if the children or grandchildren were RAPED they would have a different outlook. They all obviously have no morals and are puppets of the catholic church. They aid in the spread of MONSTER RAPIST and the systematic RAPE of children by the cathloic church.

(Report Comment)
SISTER MAUREEN PAUL TURLISH February 8, 2010 | 2:45 p.m.

Tim Dempsey, interesting that you should mention that.

During the committee hearing before the 2007 Child Victims Law was passed in Delaware, one of the legislators came out with the fact that he had been sexually molested by a family friend as a child and, up to that very moment, he had told no one not even he wife.

The bill was subsequently passed unanimously in both the Senate and House and it included a two year civil window for bringing previously time barred cases of abuse into civil court which closed in July of 2009.

Previously all criminal statutes on the sexual abuse of children were removed.

What bothers me immensely about so many of the hierarchy is that they appear to be incapable of responding with outrage or any kind of anger that this happened and that their brethren conspired to protect predators and cover up their crimes and mortal sins.

Catholic teaching holds that the sexual abuse of children is intrinsically evil and a heinous assault to the dignity of the person yet their reactions overall were to transfer the offender, enable his violating of additional children and all the while intimidate and harass the individuals and their families who went to them expecting help.

Good God, the Holy See was an early signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Isn't this worth anything more than the paper it's written on?

It is so frustrating to people like myself to realize that those bishops and their underlings never gave a thought to those victims of childhood sexual abuse and they continue to abuse them in that in every state where legislative reform has been attempted it has been viciously opposed by the bishops and their state Catholic Conferences.

All I can say is that by their actions they are known. They must be challenged to do the right thing whenever possible and good people must continue to lobby for legislative reform.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
Board Member, Delaware Association for Children of Alcoholics
New Castle, Delaware

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Don Asbee February 9, 2010 | 6:40 a.m.

In my jouney of healing from the abuse at the hands of two parish priests, I learned that parishoners knew the abuse was occurring, yet did nothing. The fear that these Emissaries From God would somehow block their path to eternal salvation made the thought of reporting the abuse unthinkable. I was assured by the priests that if I told my parents, they would not believe me. I felt trapped. This supreme court decision will serve to keep perpatrators safe from detection, and insure a level of insecurity for the children in their path. This powerful institution and its minions can rest assured that thier image will remain relatively unblemished at the expense of the innocent and vulnerable.

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Barbara Olwig February 9, 2010 | 7:11 a.m.

The stain of abuse on my soul is something I had no control over and yet I am left to live with it. Trying to heal from it is, at times, seemingly impossible. It's made even harder when the court system aligns itself with the perpetrators. I would not wish my experience on any other human being. But it would be satisfying if every person "in authority" had to walk a mile in a survivor's shoes: experience a flashback, feel your body coming apart as a dissociative episode begins, experience the utter sadness, guilt and shame. And do it through the soul of a five-year-old. The Catholic church is a cult, run by predators whose only concern is power and who know they'll stay in power through the actions of the sheep who sit in the pews week after week and never question, never challenge. It's a self-perpetrating nightmare and the courts are aiding and abetting an institution that is rotting from the inside out.

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