The Catholic church has flexed it’s considerable muscle and gone on the offensive against the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), asking the courts to force the organization to turn over two decades of emails. The request is part of two Missouri cases involving the sexual abuse of children by priests, and the church has filed at least five subpoenas in recent months and the national director was grilled by church lawyers for six hours earlier this year. Yesterday a judge in Kansas City rules that the network has to comply, because it “almost certainly” has information relevant to the case.
Did I mention that SNAP is not even a plaintiff in either of the cases preceeding now?
That makes it prett easy to lay bare what this really is…an orchestrated legal campaign by the church to crush an organization that it considers a thorn in it’s side. The bishops would like nothing more than to set Torquemada loose on the troublemakers and rabble-rousers at SNAP, but since the days of the Inquisition (didn’t expect that!) they are using legal pressure in an effort to silence their fiercest critic. If you want proof that SNAP is on the side of the angels — Bill Donohue, the wingnut leader of the Catholic League, called SNAP “a menace to the Catholic church.”
Mr. Donohue said leading bishops he knew had resolved to fight back more aggressively against the group: “The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but 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 bishops were also rethinking their approach of paying large settlements to groups of victims. “The church has been too quick to write a check, and I think they’ve realized it would be a lot less expensive in the long run if we fought them one by one,” Mr. Donohue said.
However, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said Mr. Donohue was incorrect.
“There is no national strategy,” she said, and there was no meeting where legal counsel for the bishops decided to get more aggressive.
I have no doubt that Donohue is the one telling the truth here, because he is gloating. He can’t help himself from sporting wood at the mere thought that the church might smite an enemy.
SNAP going up against the church is truly a David v Goliath story…
The church has billions of dollars in assets. SNAP, which has only three paid staffers, operates on a shoestring. It’s total revenue for 2010 was just an eyelash over $350,000 a significant portion of which came from trial attorneys who had won settlements from the church. The fifty grand they have spent trying to comply with the subpoenas represents a significant chunk of their operating capital. They are lining up attorneys who will work pro bono.
When the scandal over clergy sexual abuse reached a peak in Boston in 2002, American bishops met at their conference in Dallas with network members who gave emotional testimony about the toll of the abuse. But relations have deteriorated since then, and SNAP members say bishops now refuse to meet with them.
The first indication that the network would be caught up in legal proceedings came from Kansas City, where Bishop Robert W. Finn last year became the first American bishop ever to be criminally indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse.
Mr. 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 Father 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 Mr. Clohessy turn over all documents in the last 23 years that mention repressed memory, any current or former priest in Kansas City, the diocese, Father 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 Ms. Randles violated a gag 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.
Ms. Randles said in an interview: “I certainly didn’t violate the gag order that is based on the ethics rules. And I did get an informal opinion from the Missouri bar ethics council indicating that it was acceptable to give an advance copy of the petition as long as my client had given me permission to do so.”
Ten victims’ advocacy groups filed a supporting brief arguing that the subpoena was unconstitutional. The Missouri Press Association also filed a supporting brief.
However, Judge Ann Mesle of Missouri Circuit Court in Jackson County ruled that Mr. Clohessy must release the files and be deposed because he “almost certainly has knowledge concerning issues relevant to this litigation”
Mr. Clohessy was deposed in January by lawyers for five accused priests and the diocese. In the 215-page transcript, made public on 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.
Mr. Clohessy testified that he had never had contact with John Doe.
“It was not a fishing expedition,” Mr. 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.”
The line of questioning pursued in the deposition was deliberately designed to undermine the assertion that the group is a rape crisis center. If that assertion was upheld, Missouri law would shield the records.
What is afoot is a coordinated effort by the rich and powerful — the Catholic church — to intimidate and silence the voices of those who have been victimized and damaged by child-raping priests. And Judge Ann Mesle seems willing to hand them her gavel to beat them with.