Abuser-Clergy Loose in the Community

By Bill Casey, member of Voice of the Faithful® Survivor Support and Child Protection working group and former board chair

The reprehensible behavior by hierarchical officials to assign known abuser-clergy to new parishes and schools, without alerting their communities of the risk to children (and even adults), is a well-documented pattern of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal. Less well-documented are equally insidious hierarchical decisions to move abuser-clergy from one diocese to another, again without disclosure of risk to communities where they next serve.

A victim/survivor in Vancouver, British Columbia, recently shed light on this latter behavior by filing a civil lawsuit against the Vancouver Archdiocese and the priest they removed from active ministry after she reported that he sexually abused her as a minor. However, less than a year after her report, the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island re-activated this same priest’s ministry and assigned him to parish work for the next six years—that is, until it too had to remove him a second time for “problems of a similar nature”. Although the Vancouver Archdiocese claims that it fully informed the Rockville Center Diocese of the priest’s history, Rockville Centre has been silent on this matter.

The abuser-priest, Fr. Damian Cooper, also known as Lawrence Cooper, began grooming Kathleen Taylor at age 16 while providing counseling to her at a youth leadership camp, and four months later began a sexually abusive sexual relationship. The abuse lasted for five years until Taylor broke his hold over her and reported his abuse to Vancouver Archdiocesan officials. The Archdiocese removed Cooper from active ministry when it learned of what it offensively referred to as Cooper’s “affair”.

When the Archdiocese denied Cooper’s request to be reinstated after six months of counseling, he moved to New York for additional professional help. Two months later, the Diocese of Rockville Centre returned Cooper to ministry and assigned him to at least two parishes for the next six years—until, as noted, it removed him from active ministry for “problems of a similar nature.”

After the Vancouver Archdiocese learned of his second removal, it recommended to Cooper that he seek laicization from the Vatican.

A recommendation, seriously? That is the extent of their responsibility for the priest they trained and ordained? Whether Cooper is laicized or not, Cooper is a risk if he has access to girls or women in a pastoral relationship. Yet he appears on no sex registry where adults have an opportunity to take preventive measures. Further, the communities in which he served in the Vancouver and Rockville Centre dioceses likely have no information about him. Neither Vancouver nor Rockville Centre seemed to take any responsibility for their “charge” once they no longer permitted his active service.

By bringing a civil action against the Vancouver Archdiocese and Cooper, Kathleen Taylor has taken on responsibility to bring Cooper’s sexual abuse into the public domain. As a survivor, she is trying to alert the public to the risk of Cooper remaining as an ordained priest and working in a position of trust in future without the Church providing any indication of the risk to girls or women. She also wishes to inform and reach out to other possible victims of Cooper’s abuse, so they know they are not solitary victims.

The Vancouver Archdiocese stated that the abuse victim was not a minor in the abuse that led to Cooper’s second removal. However, adult women who are sexually exploited by priests in pastoral relationships often find it even more difficult to come forward and ask for support after being abused, because they are made to feel that the abuse was somehow their choice, or their fault. In this context, was the second woman informed by the Church that she was not Cooper’s first victim, or did the Church once again try to pass off the abuse as an “affair”? Taylor feels that this second, unnamed victim, along with any other adult victims of pastoral sexual abuse, deserves to know the truth and be supported in taking whatever actions will support her healing.

As admirable as Taylor’s motives are in this regard, I wonder why the Catholic hierarchy wash their hands of the needs of actual or potential victims in their communities where abuser-priests served, or currently reside?

Kathleen Taylor has stood tall and is actively trying to do what Church officials are not. VOTF leaders at the national office and on Long Island are supporting her efforts.

More information about this story is available at the following two links:

Vancouver Archdiocese Says It Informed N.Y. Diocese of Priest’s History of Sex Abuse Allegations

Father Damian Lawrence Cooper

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