Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018
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Nun called to support reforms of abuse laws


Sister Ann-Marie Borgess, with childhood photo in foreground, says the proposed bill will expose abusive clerics.


Her childhood memories come in excruciating flashes.

In one, she is 6. It is noon recess. She wears pigtails, a school uniform, and the pain of the rape minutes earlier.

In another, she is 9. Her abuser a priest, she said hands her an oatmeal cookie. She is a good girl that day, he tells her.

Now, more than three decades later, Sister Ann-Marie Borgess is a longtime nun with the Sisters of Notre Dame in West Toledo. She was a teacher at Ladyfield Catholic School until it closed earlier this year.

So when she takes the microphone today at a news conference planned by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, she becomes an unlikely ally for victims of clergy abuse a voice from within the church s walls.

I feel called to do this, she said recently from the Notre Dame Provincial Center, where she is administrative assistant at a nonprofit that helps children with special educational needs.

Still, she conceded: I m terrified.

Lawmakers today are invited to a Speak Out session at 2 p.m. at the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus. It is a precursor to a hearing tomorrow in front of the Ohio House of Representatives judiciary committee on a bill that would lengthen from 2 to 20 years the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

The Ohio Catholic Conference supports that provision as well as another adding clergy to the list of those mandated to report suspected abuse to authorities, but it objects to a one-year look-back period. If it becomes law, that provision would allow a one-year window for victims of abuse from as long as 35 years ago to file lawsuits.

Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Catholic Diocese has personally met with lawmakers, arguing that the look-back provision is unconstitutional and exposes the church to costly and unfounded litigation.

That means Sister Ann-Marie s support of the bill today puts her at odds with the hierarchy of the Toledo diocese.

Calling her conversations with the diocese about her allegations frustrating and spiritually disheartening, Sister Ann-Marie argues the bill is the only way to fully expose abusive clergy. She names Chet Warren, a priest barred from ministry, as her abuser, saying her psyche, as a matter of self-preservation, had set aside the memories until she was an adult. She said she s ready for the tough questions she might face over the controversial concept of repressed memories. I m at a point in my healing, where I m stronger. I m aware of the pain that s in so many people s hearts, and I ve been awed by the courage that others have shown in speaking the truth, she said.

Mr. Warren was never criminally charged. However, he was banned from ministry after several women accused him of assaulting them at St. Pius X in the 1960s and 1970s. In March, Bishop Blair personally apologized for Mr. Warren, saying he had committed grievously sinful and criminal acts.

Mr. Warren did not return a call seeking comment. He has repeatedly declined interviews with The Blade about allegations that he engaged in sexual abuse as a priest.

Sally Oberski, a spokesman for the diocese, declined comment on any conversations between Sister Ann-Marie and the diocese, citing the diocese s confidentiality clause over investigations of sexual abuse.

As for Sister Ann-Marie s position on the proposed legislation, Ms. Oberski said the diocese has no jurisdiction over operations at the Sisters of Notre Dame. Sister Ann-Marie s position is really between the religious order [and her], she said.

Sitting with Provincial Sister Anne-Mary Molyet recently, Sister Ann-Marie was adamant that hers is a personal stand today, not one representing or taken by the entire Notre Dame community, which numbers about 250 nuns locally and more than 2,000 worldwide.

Sister Anne-Mary Molyet agreed, noting that the diocese must take its position on the bill to protect the church, its members, and its financial health. Still, she said she also personally disagreed with the diocese s position.

As women religious, we re called to be a prophetic role in the church and in society, Sister Anne-Mary said. Therefore we stand with the people who suffer, and particularly children, and now those suffering the devastating effect of clergy abuse.

The state House Judiciary Committee considers the bill tomorrow but is limiting testimony to four legal experts who will address the constitutionality of the look-back period.

In documents provided to The Blade, it appears all but one of the four experts SNAP s representative take the position that the look-back period may be unconstitutional. Still, the Ohio Legislative Services Commission says it may ultimately be up to courts to decide.

Contact Robin Erb or 419-724-6133.

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