Clergy sex abuse survivors seek transparency, healing

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Victims of child sex abuse are calling on the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls to be more transparent in identifying and investigating predator priests. They shared their heartbreaking stories of abuse at the hands of clergy Friday with the hope of finding justice and healing for themselves and other victims.

Back in March, the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls released the names of 11 diocese priests who sexually abused children.  But victims say that list should have included 25 more names, many of them priests from other religious orders who spent time in South Dakota. Victims also say the diocese wields too much influence in the criminal process.

Tim Lennon was 12-years-old when he says his parish priest in Sioux City began molesting him.

“The most horrific part was the violent, life-threatening rape that still affects me every day. But I have a great amount of fire and anger of what happened to me,” Lennon said.

Now, Lennon is channeling that fire and anger to advocate for other victims of clergy sex abuse, including those in South Dakota.  He says the Sioux Falls Diocese has far too long been covering up for predator priests and their crimes.

“It’s not for them to decide what is credible or not credible.  It is up to police and child protective services to decide that, not the diocese. And as long as they set themselves as a middle-man of deciding what is a crime or what is not a crime, is wrong,” Lennon said.

The chancellor of the diocese listened as the abuse survivors shared their stories.

“The sins of abuse and the sins of omission are absolutely a part of this diocese’s history as they were, we’re finding all over and that’s terrible,” Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls Chancellor Matt Althoff said.

But Matt Althoff says the diocese has for 25 years followed a policy of background checks and training intended to keep children safe. He says allegations of abuse are now handled by the diocese within a matter of hours.

“There have been numerous instances in my tenure as chancellor where concerns were brought forward, it was taken to law enforcement immediately, the person in question was set aside and investigation done by law enforcement within 12-hours,” Althoff said.

But survivors say the abuse they suffered decades ago has shaken their faith in the church, and those who oversee priests who prey on children.

Lennon, who’s the president of the national group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says the state of South Dakota needs to give abuse victims more time to file lawsuits. State law puts the cutoff at 40 years of age. But Lennon says the average victim doesn’t come forward until their fifties.
 

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