When Charles Taylor was 12 years old and growing up in Tucson in the early 1970s, a priest at the local Episcopal church began sexually abusing him. Although Taylor told the rector, and a church secretary knew about the abuse, the church did nothing.
All of that is according to a new lawsuit that Taylor, who is nearly 61, has filed against Grace St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tucson and the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona for the two years of sexual abuse he says he suffered as a child at the hands of Father Richard Babcock.
The suit could be the first of its kind after Arizona changed its law in May to give survivors of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue perpetrators or organizations that knew of the abuse. Survivors previously had until the age of 20. The new law gives them until the age of 30 and gives older survivors, who previously were time-barred from suing, until December 31, 2020, to file claims.
Krisel McSweeney, an attorney from the firm Herman Law who is representing Taylor, said that as far as she knew, his lawsuit was the first one made possible by the new law. She said that Taylor had first tried to sue in 1991, but the case was dismissed because the civil statute of limitations had expired. Now, the temporary window gives Taylor another shot.
“Just being allowed to sue is semblance of justice,” Taylor told Phoenix New Times in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“The church continues to be a real thorn in getting justice,” he added, saying that the institution protected itself, not victims. “I hope with this lawsuit that all that is going to change."
According to Taylor’s complaint, filed July 12 in Pima County Superior Court, Babcock began abusing him in the early 1970s. He first gained Taylor’s trust and admiration, then forced him “to submit to oral copulation or sodomization” in the church bathroom, the choir room, and sometimes at Babcock’s home.
Taylor told the rector, Father Weakes, but the church did nothing to stop the abuse, the complaint alleges. The abuse stopped only when Taylor told his mother, who went to the Tucson police.
“What they said was, there was no record of him abusing anyone, and I was the only one reporting this,” Taylor told New Times. He said the police said at the time that an investigation would go nowhere, and so they did nothing.
After that, the church and the diocese “acted to conceal Father Babcock’s misconduct,” the complaint says. It reassigned Babcock to other churches, “in an effort to minimize continued scrutiny on Father Babcock.”
Prior to his death in the early 2000s, Babcock confessed in a sworn affidavit that he had sexually abused children, the complaint says. McSweeney declined to share a copy of the affidavit, saying she would prefer to see it come out in litigation.
The Episocal Diocese of Arizona confirmed it knows of three other boys abused by Babcock, but said that it has no record that Taylor reported the abuse in the early 1970s.
Right Reverend Jennifer Reddall, the Episcopal bishop of Arizona, said that the church first learned of allegations against Babcock in 1979, a year after Babcock transferred from the Grace Church in Tucson to St. David’s in Page. She said the transfer was "normal."
Records “didn’t indicate that there was a transfer to hide him or shield him,” she said.
In 1979, when the first allegations against Babcock surfaced, she said, the church suspended him and investigated. Babcock subsequently renounced his order and confessed to abusing the two boys — Taylor was not one of them — who made the allegations against him. Another victim came forward after 1979, too.
“To the best of our knowledge, we don’t have any record of any allegations against him prior to 1979,” Reddall said. Asked whether it was possible that the rector Taylor said he told had simply chosen not to make a record of the allegation, Reddall said that the church would be investigating, but that one barrier was how long ago the alleged abuse took place.
“The most key people I would like to ask are no longer with us,” she said. Babcock is dead. The rector that Taylor said he told has died Reddall believed. When she spoke to a clergy member who was at Grace Church at the time, that person “had no knowledge.”
Overall, including Taylor, the church knows of four people abused by Babcock as children.
“It doesn’t mean there aren’t more,” said Reddall. “In fact, we’d welcome hearing other victims."
Taylor's lawsuit appears to be the first filed against the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona over allegations of child sexual abuse. His complaint accuses both Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Arizona diocese of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, saying that the church had notice of the abuse but did nothing about it, and also did too little to protect children from abusers like Babcock.
As a result, Taylor suffered psychological and emotional harm, plus “shame, humiliation, and the inability to lead a normal life.”
In a statement issued last week, the Episcopal Diocese said that Taylor’s claims “have been known to us for many years, but despite repeated legal action, we have never been able to come to satisfactory resolution.”
Reddall said that Taylor had threatened both clergy and people at the church, forcing the Episcopal Church to obtain an injunction against him, and barring him from visiting any churches. She said the injunction required him to stay outside of gunshot range of those churches.
McSweeney said that the injunction was “a tactic used by the Episcopal Diocese to silence my client and intimidate him.”
Taylor is seeking damages to be determined by a jury. McSweeney said that in similar cases of sexual abuse, juries typically award damages in the millions of dollars. She hopes to achieve the same for Taylor.
A previous version of this story had the incorrect spelling and title for Right Reverend Jennifer Reddall. We apologize for the error.
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