Late yesterday, a judge “unsealed” the six hour deposition of SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy by five lawyers representing Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and five Kansas City accused pedophile priests (Fr. Michael Tierney, Msgr. Thomas O’Brien, Fr. Mark Honhart, Fr. Francis McGlynn and Fr. Thomas Cronin). We will post it on our website as soon as we get a copy of the transcript. It ostensibly stems from a case called John Doe BP v. Fr. Michael Tierney and the Kansas City diocese and from one of three subpoenas that have been issued in recent weeks to victims who are SNAP leaders. This is the first time in SNAP’s 23 years that its staff has been subpoenaed.
Catholic officials are demanding thousands of pages of private records from child sex abuse victims and others. This has been called a “fishing expedition.” But it’s much worse than that. It’s a cynical, shrewd legal maneuver to deter victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others from exposing predators, protecting kids and seeking help from SNAP.
And it threatens the long-standing privacy protections that almost all crime victims – not just child sex victims of predatory clerics’ victims - have enjoyed for years.
The demands – including documents from as long ago as 23 years- come from church officials in two dioceses - Kansas City and St. Louis. SNAP is not part of either suit.
Catholic officials want private, personal records and e mails involving hundreds of individuals who have never even heard of or met the accused or the accusers in the two suits. This is a misuse of judicial processes designed to crush a support and advocacy group that protects the vulnerable and heals the wounded. It’s cleverly orchestrated to keep clergy sex crimes and cover ups concealed.
Six thousand US priests have been publicly accused of sexually assaulting kids. Many more have been privately accused. Church officials desperately want to keep those “private” allegations “private.”
The subpoenas – in St. Louis and in Kansas City – are virtually identical. They ask for every single document in SNAP’s records and e mails that mentions
- every single current or former priest in each city, and
- repressed memory (even if it involves a dead victim in Miami and a dead predator in Alaska).
(In St. Louis, however, church officials now claim they are backing away somewhat from two of the most sweeping demands.)
Who knows how many other subpoenas are in the works? (There are almost 200 Catholic dioceses in the US, roughly even more Catholic religious orders, and 6,000 proven, admitted, credibly and/or publicly accused predator priests, not to mention nuns, bishops, brothers, seminarians and lay employees.)
Step back and consider the larger context. Last year must have been extraordinarily tough for the US Catholic hierarchy. For the first time ever, two high ranking church officials face criminal charges for concealing child sex crimes – Bishop Finn in Kansas City and Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia. The hierarchy also knows that victims finding other victims and joining together for support, healing and justice will, in turn, lead to more victims coming forward and exposing even more (and more recent) clerical sex offenders and cover ups.
So, they have got to find a tactic—even if it ultimately loses in court—for scaring and stopping victims from coming forward to SNAP and other agencies where they find the strength and courage to call law enforcement.
What better way to frighten victims and derail advocates than by launching an unprecedented legal assault on the oldest, largest and most visible support group for those victims – and its allies - while at the same time also chilling and scaring witnesses, whistleblowers, journalists and others into thinking twice before contacting SNAP or worse, choosing to stay silent?
Keep in mind these facts revealed by the deposition:
- Church lawyers asked Clohessy more than 700 questions. Less than 3% of them concerned Fr. Tierney or the case against him (which is the purported reason for the deposition and discovery demands).
- The overwhelming majority of the questions (close to 90%) dealt with internal SNAP matters (with virtually no relevance to whether Fr. Tierney molested a child or KC church officials concealed Tierney’s alleged crimes).
- Only one attorney, at the very end of the deposition, asked the key question “Has there been any contact whatsoever between SNAP and John Doe BP? (Tierney’s alleged victim)” (Clohessy answered ‘no.’) That attorney, Jeff Jensen (a former FBI agent and sex crimes prosecutor), represents SNAP. In other words, none of the lawyers representing Bishop Finn, Fr. Tierney, Fr. Honhart, Fr. Cronin, Msgr. O’Brien, or Fr. McGlynn even bothered to ask about Clohessy’s alleged connection to the case at hand.
Catholic officials insist they aren’t trying to get private information about victims SNAP helps. Yet their lawyers introduced into evidence the names and home addresses of at least a dozen SNAP members, almost all of them victims. (We are grateful that Judge Ann Mesle ordered that these be redacted in the unsealed transcript.) Church lawyers asked dozens and dozens of questions in the deposition designed to show that Missouri’s rape shield law –under which SNAP refuses to give out information about victims – does NOT in fact protect clergy sex abuse victims.
If church officials don’t want names and private communications with victims, why pay lawyers to undermine Missouri’s rape shield law and its applicability here? This is like a known criminal saying “I don’t want your money. Just gimme your credit card, ATM card, PIN number and checkbook.”
(Catholic officials have tried, and sometimes succeeded, in “outing” victims before. Just last year, New Hampshire’s bishop persuaded a court to “out” an alleged child sex abuse victim of Fr. George St. Jean. Five years ago, church supporters of an Orange diocesan cleric, Monsignor John Urell, put six previously private victims’ names on a website.) Seven years ago, Milwaukee church officials tried to reveal names of boys sexually violated by Fr. Siegfried Widera. Los Angeles church officials released the name of a victim of Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray-see her statement below)
Remember, the deposition that we’re posting today ostensibly stems from a case called John Doe BP v. Fr. Michael Tierney and the Kansas City diocese. Keep in mind these indisputable facts about the case:
- SNAP is not a party to the lawsuit.
- In at least four court filings and a sworn deposition, SNAP has said it’s had no contact whatsoever with John Doe, the victim.
- In at least four court filings, Doe has said the same thing.
- So if Doe (as defense lawyers suggest) may be lying about his abuse or his memories (and there’s no reason or evidence to think he is), SNAP couldn’t possibly have played any role in that.
A few, loud critics of abuse victims accuse us of “hypocrisy” because, in this legal struggle, we’re fighting to protect the privacy of those SNAP helps: victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and Catholics (many of whom are hurting, confused, and frightened). Consider this:
Transparency about criminals helps protect the vulnerable. Transparency about victims hurts the already-hurting.
When victims’ privacy is respected, more victims are able to speak up, protect others, expose predators and start healing. When victims’ privacy is violated, more victims stay silent, more predators walk free and more innocent people are raped and assaulted.
Who benefits when the private e mails of a struggling teenager, who was sexually assaulted for years by his or her priest, are given to Archbishop Carlson and his lawyers? That’s not “transparency.” That’s a travesty. That’s brutality. That’s betrayal. (NOTE-the St. Louis case involves a 19 year old who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an already-convicted pedophile priest as recently as 2001.)
Men who beat their spouses, rape adults and assault kids would love to force ‘transparency’ on their helpless victims. They’d love to get records of what their victims told counselors or where they took refuge or what they said in support groups. But does anyone really think that’s how our society should function?
Archbishop Carlson is desperately trying to protect the reputations of his top staffers who knowingly and deceitfully put an admitted child predator back in a parish where he again sexually violated another child. Is there a more heinous offense than deliberately putting kids in the path of a predator with no warning to their parents? So of course Carlson will do anything possible to shift blame and attention elsewhere, even if it means going after a non-profit self help group and a hurting teenaged girl.
Our position isn’t hypocrisy - it’s common sense. It’s the long-standing and well-established practice of rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters and counselors and cops and everyone who cares about safeguarding the vulnerable from the violent.
We put convicted sex offenders’ names on state websites. We don’t put their victims’ names out there.
Let's step back and consider the big picture for a second. Archbishop Carlson, Bishop Finn and their brother Catholic bishops have hired, hidden, transferred, defended and enabled child molesters. SNAP hasn't. Carlson, Finn and their colleagues have ignored and concealed the clerics’ crimes. SNAP hasn't. Carlson, Finn and their peers have caused and compounded unimaginable pain to tens of thousands of once innocent and trusting boys and girls. SNAP hasn't. So the idea of treating the church's records about predators the same as SNAP's records about victims is just wrong.
Finally, to protect kids from predators, we gladly work with lots of sources – journalists, police, prosecutors, lawyers, victims and others – to get accurate information out quickly to the public when credible allegations surface. We’re proud of that. It takes only seconds for a pedophile to shove his tongue down a girl’s throat or his hands down a boy’s pants. It takes only minutes for predators to intimidate victims, threaten witness, discredit whistleblowers, destroy evidence, and fabricate alibis. It takes only hours for child molesters to dodge police and escape overseas and keep assaulting kids.
So when we learn about dangerous and potentially dangerous child sex offenders, we move quickly to alert as many people as possible.
Sometimes, we learn of a predator’s impending arrest warrant from police or prosecutors before it happens. Sometimes we learn of a predator’s impending suspension from a church whistleblower. Sometimes, we learn of a victim’s impending lawsuit from the victim or his/her attorney. There’s nothing inappropriate or sinister about this, no matter how hard church officials try to pretend or intimate that there is. It’s one way we make sure accurate information is provided, more parents are warned about credibly accused predators and more kids are protected.
Many would like the Catholic Church’s on-going, horrific child sex abuse and cover up crisis to disappear. Many resent those of us who shine a light on dangerous individuals and practices. But when those resentments translate into unwarranted, unprecedented and unjust attacks, we should all pause and recall who has enabled and concealed heinous crimes and who is exposing and preventing heinous crimes.
Here’s the bottom line - Catholic officials are desperately trying to conceal their wrong-doing by attacking victims. They’re desperately trying to silence victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and journalists by trying to eviscerate SNAP.
Supportive editorials in Missouri’s two largest newspapers
Earlier SNAP statements on this controversy
Statement by Erin Brady of California, whose privacy was violated by Catholic officials
After years of mediation with the church heirarchy, I was hopeful that Los Angeles Catholic official would help to inform Catholics about the predators in their midst. Instead, I found that I had been violated once again. My name and the graphic details of my abuse were published on the Internet, in something Cardinal Roger Mahony called "The People of God" report. I was the only victim that was identified by name. I immediately requested that my report be made anonymous as were all of the other reports. It took church officials three weeks to agree to remove my name. However, they left my initials, where they remain today. In those three weeks, countless numbers of people and media sources downloaded the original documents and published on their web sites or in print. Still years later, I find my name on some website and am revictimized all over again.