ST. LOUIS (AP) – An advocacy group for clergy abuse victims will fight a court order requiring it to disclose what could be years’ worth of emails and other records to attorneys for a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a young parishioner in the 1970s, a group official said Tuesday.
David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said last week’s order requiring it to turn over records to attorneys for the Rev. Michael Tierney is too broad, and that the group is weighing its options for fighting the order.
The state Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene on SNAP’s behalf, rendering its decision after Clohessy was deposed in St. Louis.
Last week, Jackson County Circuit Judge Ann Mesle ordered SNAP to disclose records that could include years of emails with victims, journalists and others. The order is related to an abuse lawsuit against the Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe, B.P., said he was 13 when Tierney attacked and molested him in the 1970s.
Attorneys for Tierney and the diocese sought the documents as evidence that the accuser’s attorney violated a gag order by giving details of the case to SNAP.
Clohessy said defense attorneys could ask a judge to fine him and SNAP, or jail him, until all documents are turned over, but so far, no request along those lines has been made.
He said the documents sought include virtually every communication from SNAP’s 23 years of existence, and that he believes the scope goes well beyond the Tierney case.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can to protect the victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, journalists, police, prosecutors and concerned Catholics,” an emotional Clohessy said. “We are proud and determined to not be transparent about the identities and emails of deeply wounded people who seek our help.”
Attorneys for the diocese declined comment, citing the gag order in the case. But Catholic League President Bill Donohue was critical of SNAP’s efforts to fight the court order.
“Clohessy never tires of lecturing the Catholic Church on the need for transparency, yet when he is in the hot seat, he rebels,” Donohue said in a statement.
In her ruling last week, Mesle ordered Clohessy to turn over communications because he “almost certainly has knowledge concerning issues relevant to this litigation.”
The suit is one of five abuse cases against Tierney, who has denied wrongdoing. In June, the diocese barred him from any public church work and from presenting himself as a priest.
Defense lawyers sought the documents as evidence that the accuser’s attorney, Rebecca Randles, gave details of the case to SNAP. The defense claims SNAP then printed the information in a press release.
Under the ruling, SNAP must produce all documents or correspondence relating to Tierney, the diocese, any priest currently or formerly associated with the diocese, the Survivors Network communication with the plaintiff and any documents related to repressed memory. The plaintiff in the lawsuit said he had repressed memories of the assault for years.
But Clohessy said SNAP has helped with multiple cases involving repressed memory.
“What possible relevance could it have to the guilt or innocence of Father Tierney what a Miami victim says about an Alaska priest in 1989?” he asked. He called the defense request a “bullying effort.”
SNAP has provided support and guidance for abuse victims since it was formed in the late 1980s. The group has been a constant critic of Catholic church officials, alleging they have too often failed to alert police and prosecutors to abusive clergy and have often opted to instead simply move them to other locations.
As the costs of the scandal have skyrocketed, many bishops and other Catholics have accused SNAP of funneling clients to plaintiffs’ lawyers who want to enrich themselves and bankrupt the church.
According to studies commissioned by the U.S. bishops, dioceses have paid about $3 billion in settlements and other costs related to more than 15,700 abuse claims since 1950.
SNAP argues the overwhelming majority of alleged victims who seek the group’s help do not sue.
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