For much of the past 25-years Jeff Anderson has been the American Catholic Church’s bete noire.
Working out of a small office in St Paul, Minnesota, the 63-year-old US attorney has spearheaded more than 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church, winning millions of dollars for his clients whilst forcing open one of the world’s most secretive institutions.
Now the tough-talking American lawyer with a taste for Zen Buddhism has co-founded a London-based law firm to bring sex abuse lawsuits against churches in Britain. The new firm, Jeff Anderson – Ann Olivarius Law, is one the first attempts to create a cross Atlantic practice dedicated to launching legal actions on multiple continents using aggressive litigation tactics that have been honed for over two decades in the United States.
British law firms have long pursued the Catholic Church following a series of historical sex abuse scandals which predominantly came out into the open in the early 2000s. Numerous court cases have since been settled and a small number of cases are still ongoing.
But speaking at his new firm’s launch today in central London, Mr Anderson claimed there was still room for a new practice inspired by his work in the US where one diocese in Delaware recently declared bankruptcy because of mounting litigation.
“Survivors have, and are, breaking their silence,” he said. “It is our hope, it is our plan, to use the very fine legal system here to get help for the wounded, those that have been harmed, and together with them do what we can to protect others from further harm.”
Ann Olivarius, an American-born British solicitor, asked Anderson to form a cross-Atlantic litigation firm with her.
“If you followed the clergy abuse scandal as it grew in the United States it was clear that, if not for Jeff Anderson, the Catholic Church hierarchy and its clergy might have never been held responsible as they are today,” she said. “It seemed to me we needed the same kind of pressure for justice and accountability on this side of the Atlantic.”
The Catholic Church in England and Wales has brought in tough child protection policies following a string of sex abuse allegations that surfaced in the early 2000s. Abuse allegations against the church have since fallen and the Vatican has held the UK up as an example for how other churches should deal with the clerical sex abuse pandemic.
But Mr Anderson questioned whether enough had yet been done to help victims of abusers and called on the church to release any documents it has on abusive clergy.
“The extent to which the bishops in the UK have taken some action, we applaud that,” he said. “But the extent to which they say the problem has been dealt with, we challenge that.
We don’t know who the actual offenders are that only they know about. Until they come fully clean with that, children are at risk here?across the land and across the globe.”
The new firm is paying particular attention to clerical abusers who moved between Britain, Ireland and the United States throughout their careers in the church.
Yesterday the firm launched its first civil lawsuit on behalf of an alleged American victim of Father Francis Markey, an 83-year-old Irish priest who was extradited to Ireland last year from the States on child abuse charges.
The lawsuit has been filed in a court in Minneapolis, not Britain. It names as co-defendants the Diocese of Clogher in Ireland, the Diocese of New Ulm in Minnesota and the Servants of the Paraclete, an international Catholic congregation that was involved in the rehabilitation of priests.
The Servants of the Paraclete used to run a rehabilitation centre in Brownshill, Gloucestershire, until it closed down in 1998. According to the lawsuit Father Markey spent time there in 1975 after three separate sex abuse allegations were made against him. He lived in Britain until 1981 but was returned to ministry and later moved to America where fresh allegations have since surfaced.
The new firm is now looking for British abuse survivors to come forward. But Justin Levinson, a barrister who specialises in child abuse compensation claims, questioned whether there would be enough future cases to sustain a new practice.
“There are still new abuse cases cropping up, not in their hundreds, but they are there,” he said. “Whether there are enough to sustain a dedicated practice, however, I’d be doubtful.”