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Beaumont lawyers file abuse suit vs. church

Two Beaumont attorneys have joined forces with two Northeastern law firms to file a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican over sexual abuse by church clergy and representatives.

Mitchell Toups of Weller, Green, Toups & Terrell in Beaumont said Wednesday the suit used RICO — Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — civil law in filing the suit, which he said seeks compensation for all victims of sexual abuse by clergy and church employees extending back to 1940.

The 77-page suit was filed in Washington, D.C., this week by Toups, Richard L. Coffman of the Coffman Law Firm of Beaumont and two New York City attorneys on behalf of six plaintiffs, none of them from Texas, and all other victims in the 50 states and Puerto Rico.

In an issued statement, the lawyers said they believe the “cover-up by the Catholic Church resulted in the abuse continuing and becoming an endemic, systemic, rampant and pervasive issue causing harm to tens of thousands of victims.”

He said the actions by individual abusers “fall under the responsibility of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See, per the ‘Command Responsibility Doctrine’.”

U.S. bishops this week were expected to take action steps to accept more responsibility for failing to protect child victims of clergy sexual abuse, but were halted by an instruction from Rome.

Toups said that action itself was proof of a “command structure” within the church and proves that the Vatican holds responsibility for oversight of individual, criminal sex abuse against children and other victims.

He said the suit is connected to the bishops’ determination to reveal names of priests who have been credibly accused of sex abuse by the end of January. The 15 Catholic dioceses in Texas are among those who will publish the names by Jan. 31.

Most Rev. Curtis Guillory, bishop of Beaumont, said last month he believes the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been effective in protecting young people from abuse.

He said the civil RICO statute is “complicated,” but in general the offending “enterprise” would be the church itself.

“The enterprise is doing well by covering up allegations because they raise money,” Toups said.

He said he expects Texas victims to come forward in response to the suit.

Contacted late Wednesday by The News, the diocese said only the bishop could respond, and he was at the Catholic bishops meeting in Washington.