I am one of many who read the grand jury report on sexual assault by priests of the Catholic Church across most of Pennsylvania over seven decades. The report tells a story of heinous crimes committed by Catholic priests and concealed by the Catholic hierarchy. It is a story of lives and hopes ruined forever by men who used their position of trust as clergy to commit the very sins that the God they vowed to serve forbids under pain of hell.
As a mother, I wept over the vicious and heinous crimes that were perpetrated against children, sometimes in the name of the church itself, by more than 300 priests.
As a Catholic, I am angry with the church hierarchy for protecting priests, monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, and even cardinals who either molested children or enabled abusers for more than a half century.
As a Pennsylvania resident, I am outraged with the attempt by church leaders and their powerful supporters to suppress this report and keep the facts of the crimes and the lives they ruined hidden from the public.
As an attorney, I am shocked and saddened by the grand jury's statement, "We spent 24 months dredging up the most depraved behavior, only to find that the laws protect most of its perpetrators and leave its victims with nothing. We say laws that do that need to change."
As a citizen, I call upon our representatives to make the laws work on behalf of the thousands who were abandoned and abused by those they sometimes trusted most.
I am raising my voice now because I am something more than a mother, a Catholic, a Pennsylvania resident, an attorney, and a citizen. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. In fact, I am the first known victim of former Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar began to abuse me when I was an 8-year-old gymnast with dreams of someday representing my country in the Olympics. I trusted my abuser because he was the Olympic team doctor, a god in the world of gymnastics. I thought he could do no wrong.
I did not realize that what happened to me was sexual abuse for more than 30 years until I read stories about Nassar in the media. I suspect that very same thing is happening to thousands of clergy-abuse victims in Pennsylvania right now.
At the time Nassar's history of abuse became public, a child sex-abuse victim in Michigan had to file a lawsuit by her 19th birthday. Most victims of the priests named in the grand jury report lost their right to sue when they turned 20. As the grand jury said, "These victims ran out of time to sue before they even knew they had a case; the church was still successfully hiding its complicity."
When Nassar was sentenced for his crimes in Michigan, something amazing and truly inspirational happened. Two hundred and sixty-five women came to court, and confronted Nassar and the institutions that enabled his abuse. The judge called us "an army of sister survivors."
We marched to the state Capitol. We demanded change, and we got it. We helped pass laws that opened a window of opportunity for all victims of child sexual assault to pursue justice, regardless of age. We increased the criminal statute of limitations by 15 years. These new laws strengthen requirements for reporting child sexual abuse and the penalties for those that fail to report. Needless to say, all of these new laws were vigorously opposed by the Michigan Catholic Conference, but our survivors' army beat them.
The changes we made in Michigan law are the same changes that have been endorsed by the Pennsylvania grand jury.
They will not happen without a fight. I call upon the thousands of survivors in Pennsylvania and their families to raise their voices, cast aside their shame, confront their abusers, and take up this cause. You will be joined by the army of sister survivors and by people of goodwill throughout this nation. If it takes a village to raise a child, it will take an army to protect all the children.
Sarah Klein is an attorney and Pennsylvania resident. She is the first known victim of former Olympic Women's Gymnastic Team doctor Larry Nassar and an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.