Seven Lessons from Lawsuit over Sex Abuse Accusations
Lawsuit by someone accused of child sexual abuse
A Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Rev. Jiang, was accused of sexually abusing a child. He denied having done it. The criminal case against Rev. Jiang was voluntarily dismissed by the prosecutor.
Rev. Jiang filed a lawsuit with fifteen claims (Jiang v. Porter et al). He claimed the following:
- The parents making unfound accusations for money (defamation);
- The police conducted an inadequate investigation (various civil rights claims against police and city);
- The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) led a public smear campaign, including false accusations against him in the media.
The SNAP defendants moved to dismiss the case against them. Rev. Jiang’s case alleged that SNAP put pressure on government officials and the minor’s parents to persist in prosecuting him and to inflame public opinion against him. He argues that SNAP engaged in a prolonged campaign to portray him as a child molester, even after criminal charges were dismissed.
The court allowed claims to go forward against SNAP of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy to violate his civil rights.
The City defendants also moved to dismiss the complaint against them. Rev. Jiang had alleged that the police investigated only minimally. If they had investigated more thoroughly, they would have learned that the minor child had made unfounded claims of sexual abuse in the past, that he was mentally and emotionally troubled, that the parents had a history of making unfounded allegations for blame, and that factually, it was impossible for Rev. Jiang to have committed the abuse as described. Rev. Jiang alleged that police defendants first would not let him take a polygraph and then refused to dismiss the charges when he passed the polygraph.
While the court dismissed some of the claims against city defendants, it allowed other claims to go forward.
What can ministries learn from this case?
If a ministry is doing an investigation, or taking part in church discipline when there has been an accusation, it should consider these points.
An allegation or an investigation is not the same as a successful lawsuit or a conviction. Allegations, even if they are true, have not been proven. It is very risky to discuss them publicly. If there is no concrete evidence to show they are true, those making the statements may well face claims such as those faced by SNAP in this case.
Factual inconsistencies in the allegations should be examined carefully.
Investigators must consider whether the person or the family has a history of making unfounded allegations.
Investigators must consider if there are mental health issues involved.
An investigation must be sufficiently thorough to give due process to the accused. His story must be heard in depth, and his witnesses should be interviewed.
While it is important to support and care for victims, a ministry can support those who are (or may be) victims in various ways without public discussion and public accusations against those accused, which are very risky if there have been no judicial proceedings.
If there must be public statements, as is sometimes necessary, ministries should limit them to established facts, and should probably seek legal counsel before making statements.
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Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations