AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two months after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin released the names of 22 clergy “credibly accused“ of sexually abusing children, victim advocates are calling for reform at the local and state levels.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, is fighting for all statute of limitations to be lifted in Texas for child sexual assault cases and encouraging victims to speak out, regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse happened.
According to current Texas law, it no longer matters when victims of child sexual assault report their abuse to law enforcement for potential prosecution. The case can be prosecuted now or 20 years from now — after the report is made. Since Sept. 1, 2007, there is no longer a statute of limitations on these crimes.
“Looking backwards, we still have limited windows for childhood survivors that were abused in the past,“ said Carol Midboe, the Austin support group leader for SNAP.
Midboe traveled to Rome last month for the papal clergy abuse summit.
“This is a photograph of me approximately a year before I was sexually abused by my youth minister,“ Midboe said, holding the picture in her hand. She says her abuse happened in Minnesota inside the Lutheran church.
“By the time I reported to law enforcement, the statute of limitations had already expired,“ she added.
“So many childhood sexual abusers go unpunished or even unknown in their own communities. We need to improve our laws and protections for victims and responsible adults who report.“
SNAP is also asking that local churches — of all denominations — encourage their communities to report to law enforcement first and then report internally.
“Knowing how to report is key to helping children get the help they need early on,“ said Midboe. “We encourage everyone to report, no matter how long ago it happened because you never know how many other victims that person had. You never know if they still have access to children.“
Jim Cochrun says it’s about encouraging other survivors to speak up, sooner rather than later. Like Midboe, he also had a delayed outcry. Cochrun says he was abused by his Christian youth pastor decades ago in Oklahoma.
“It was a long 38 years. It took me down some pretty dark paths, and finally, my life was completely wrecked and through the process of recovery, I recalled the events from those days when I was 12 years old. What happened to me as a childhood sexual abuse victim was not my fault, and it’s not your fault, either,“ he explained. “Without the support of our government officials and without the support of our families and our clergy, it becomes a life sentence for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, and nobody, nobody should have to live with that for the rest of their lives.“
Prior to 2007, the time limit or statute of limitation for convicting someone ranged from one to 10 years. Therefore, if more than that amount of time has passed since the date or dates of the abuse, then the accuser cannot be criminally convicted.
After the list was released Jan. 31, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez encouraged other child victims to call authorities, instead of just reporting their concerns to church leaders.
“Any cases that we saw that needed to be referred to the law enforcement, we referred them to the law enforcement,“ Vasquez said. “We say it again now to all possible victims, please go to the authorities and report these cases and then if you believe that we can help in some way in that process, then come to the church and we’ll also be helping.“
After contacting the Austin Diocese for comment Friday, KXAN was told that the Catholic church has and does encourage anyone who is abused by a clergy member to come forward — but go to law enforcement first and then come to the diocese afterward.
A representative for the local diocese said if someone has been hurt by the church, it wants that person to come forward so the church has the opportunity to help them heal and to the best that they can, make things right.
KXAN has been keeping tabs on more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and district attorney’s offices across Central Texas to find out if any new investigations have begun since the list was released. At last check, no new investigations or allegations have been brought forward.