When Compassion Is Not Enough

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One of my heroes is Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota trial lawyer who has spent his career suing the Catholic Church for sexual abuse by priests against children.

Of course, Anderson is not a hero to everyone.  Many people call him money-grubbing and publicity hungry.  It’s true that Anderson earns large fees and is not adverse to publicity, but I don’t think that you can reduce his accomplishments to those side effects of his labors.  He has played an important role in solving a very difficult social problem.

I feel compassion for most everyone involved in the sex abuse scandal.  Most of all, I feel bad for the victims who have suffered injuries that money cannot remedy.  But I  also sympathize with pain devout Catholics have suffered  in discovering that some  of their priests had  committed acts which to their flock had seemed unimaginable. And let’s not forget the would-be recipients of church services that have been cut back because of the financial cost the lawsuits have caused.  I even feel compassion for the priests who so egregiously failed to live up to their vows, most of whom I am sure are troubled men deeply ashamed of their conduct.

But sometimes compassion is not enough.  We need someone to act — to lance the boil of corruption.  And in the church sexual abuse scandal that role has been fulfilled by trial lawyers, none more effective than Jeff Anderson.  Complaints are filed, documents are subpoenaed, and depositions are taken.   Slowly the  truth emerges.

The story below describes a settlement between one diocese and one of Anderson’s clients that attempts to prevent further abuse as well as compensate those already injured.  It’s too soon to declare victory, but settlements like this may signal the beginning of the end of this sad saga.

If it does, maybe someday Anderson’s critics will rethink their comments. Does anyone really think that the Catholic Church would be in a better place today if the lawsuits alerting us to these abuses had never been filed?    I doubt his critics will ever see Anderson as a hero, but they may come to recognize that he has performed a valuable service not only for his clients, but also for the Church itself.


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