Church response to Maryland abuse report, victims’ bill follows lawyers’ advice, not Jesus’ | GUEST COMMENTARY

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FILE -Archbishop William E. Lori spoke to the media at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary five years ago, about the death of Cardinal William Henry Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore who was later accused of protecting a predator priest.

The Maryland Attorney General investigation into the Archdiocese of Baltimore resulted in a 456-page report that has yet to be publicly released but, we’ve been told, implicates 158 Catholic priests and lay people in the direct abuse and sexual torture of at least 600 victims. It’s also said to chronicle how Church leaders knew about, and in many cases enabled or transferred the sexual predators, allowing them to continue the abuse. These horrid acts are difficult for Catholics like myself to come to grips with because they cut so deep into our faith and trust in the sanctity of the Church.

There is a proposed legislation in Maryland known as the Child Victims Act (House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 686), which in part aims to eliminate the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse. Currently, survivors have until age 38 to file a lawsuit. However, due to shame, fear or even repressed memory, the average age for a survivor of child sex abuse to come forward and disclose is 52 years old. This bill would allow survivors to sue any perpetrator, whether that is the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts or a day care facility or dental office, etc. It is not an anti-Catholic bill. It is a victim supporting bill. Current law in Maryland does not give these survivors a chance at justice due to the short statute of limitations.


Lawsuits serve multiple purposes. They:

  • Offer an opportunity for survivors to seek compensation to help pay for pain and suffering and lifelong economic damages such as medical, therapy and prescriptions costs that most survivors need to function and be healthy;
  • Shine expose the predators and bad actors who are still among us, and;
  • Remove the financial burden from taxpayers for supporting traumatized survivors.

We are in the final weeks of Lent, and we are called upon to challenge our ability to see others, not as humans see us, but as God sees us the heart and soul of a person. Fourth week Bible excerpts (Ephesians 5:8-14) were particularly poignant: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

The author, David Schappelle, shown here as an 8-year-old boy in 1985, says he is a  survivor of child sexual abuse and rape by a Catholic priest when he was 9, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is part of the Washington D.C. Archdiocese. In 2019, he says he recalled his abuse, and subsequently filed a police report. He spoke to authorities at the Maryland Attorney General's Office for its investigation into widespread abuse within the Catholic Church over decades.

If you went to a Catholic mass in Maryland recently, maybe you have heard similar themes like I did this past weekend, reinforcing the idea that it’s a shared responsibility to protect children, under any situation, which means uncovering injustices and exposing and holding accountable the people and organizations involved. My family and I went to mass last Sunday at St. Louis Parish in Clarksville. Unfortunately, I heard disturbing signs of guilt, cover-up, and corrupt diversion.

During the petition prayers, the first prayer was for “for the church, may we strengthen our response to those who have suffered abuse.” I’m sorry, but, WHY DID WE NOT PRAY FOR THE VICTIMS? This is not just disturbing, but infuriating. Hypothetically, if a child is raped, should we pray for the rapist or the child victim? Probably both of them, but never exclusively just the rapist (or organization that enabled them). Also, what does a stronger response look like? Does the Church want more power and control over the situation, which the Archdiocese of Baltimore created with over 80 years of enabling? According to excerpts from the attorney general’s report “the Archdiocese chose the abuser over the abused.”

The Church attacks the Child Victims Act by stating it’s “not fair” and “unconstitutional.” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori claims that the archdiocese today is reformed, now has a “zero-tolerance policy” and has already provided millions of dollars in compensation to survivors. However, not all survivors can deal directly with the Church for settlements (nor should they). There must be a legal judicial system to back this up and help bring full justice and fairness for all survivors.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has threatened bankruptcy, which would only enable them to reorganize, and prevent or delay lawsuits from due process. This weaponized bankruptcy is dangerous, yet it has happened in other archdioceses. Nobody wants the Church to declare bankruptcy, but if they do, that is their own fault due to their negligence; no blame is borne by the survivors, the legislation, lawyers, nor the faithful parishioners.

The other disturbing prayer was “for journalists and social media personnel. May they respect their calling to communicate the truth impartially and honestly, we pray, Lord, hear our prayer.” Seems harmless enough, except, in context with current events, one can conclude they are implying the news is biased and unfavorable toward the Church. When’s the last time someone tried to maintain power and control by claiming that the news is fake and biased? This prayer tells us implicitly to not believe the news.

In this situation, has Archbishop Lori ever asked, “What would Jesus do?” Or, does he just ask “What would our Accountants and Lawyers do?”

David S. Schappelle ( is a survivor of child sex abuse by a Catholic priest in the fall of 1986, when he was 9 years old, at the St. Rose of Lima Parish, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is part of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.