Turning the tables on an advocacy group that has long supported victims of pedophile priests, lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have gone to court to compel the group to disclose more than two decades of emails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists.
The group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the litigation.But the group has been subpoenaed five times in recent months in Kansas City and St. Louis, and its national director, David Clohessy, was questioned by a battery of lawyers for more than six hours this year. A judge in Kansas City ruled that the network must comply because it “almost certainly” had information relevant to the case.
The network and its allies say the legal action is part of a campaign by the church to cripple an organization that has been the most visible defender of victims, and a relentless adversary, for more than two decades.
Lawyers for the church and priests say they cannot comment because of a judge’s order. But William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a church advocacy group in New York, said targeting the network was justified because “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.”
Donohue said leading bishops he knows had resolved to fight back more aggressively against the group. “There’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys,” he said.
He said bishops were also rethinking their approach of paying large settlements to groups of victims.
However, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Donohue was incorrect, and there was no meeting where legal counsel for the bishops decided to get more aggressive.
The first indication that SNAP would be caught up in legal proceedings came from Kansas City, where Bishop Robert W. Finn last year became the first U.S. bishop to be criminally indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse.
Clohessy received a subpoena in October at his St. Louis home, where he works, regarding the case John Doe B.P. v. the Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Four plaintiffs are accusing Tierney of sexually abusing them years ago. The cases would be outside the statute of limitations in Missouri, but the plaintiffs contend they recovered their memories of abuse only recently.
The subpoena asked that Clohessy turn over all documents in the past 23 years that mention repressed memory, any current or former priest in Kansas City, the diocese, Tierney, John Doe or Rebecca Randles, the attorney for the plaintiffs.
The church’s lawyers say they need to see SNAP’s records to investigate whether Randles violated a legal order by giving the group information about one of the Tierney cases before it was filed, which the group then included in a news release.
Clohessy was deposed in January by lawyers for five accused priests and the diocese. In the 215-page transcript, made public March 2, most of the questions were not about the case but about the network – its budget, board of directors, staff members, donors and operating procedures.
Clohessy testified that he had never had contact with John Doe.
“It was not a fishing expedition,” Clohessy said. “It was a fishing, crabbing, shrimping, trash-collecting, draining the pond expedition. The real motive is to harass and discredit and bankrupt SNAP, while discouraging victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, police, prosecutors and journalists from seeking our help.”
Many of the questions were intended to prove that the group does not meet the definition of a rape crisis center. If it did, the group’s records would be shielded under a Missouri statute.
Source: The Sacramento Bee