Letter to Judge Ann Mesle
Dear Judge Ann Mesle:
Because we have pledged to do everything we can to protect those who seek our help, I decided to write you directly about the hundreds of pages of private communications sought by now-convicted KC Bishop Robert Finn, credibly accused predator priest Fr. Michael Tierney and other clerics - communications to and from our group and victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and concerned Catholic parishioners.
I have gone through thousands of pages of records. There is nothing in any of those pages that sheds any light on whether or not Fr. Tierney molested Doe BP or whether Doe BP repressed his memories of that alleged abuse.
Further, there is nothing that shows, or even hints, that anyone in SNAP – member, volunteer, supporter or staff - has ever done anything improper or urged anyone to do anything but tell the truth.
You’re obviously a lawyer and a judge. I have no background in the law. Still, I can tell you how all this will likely play out, and it’s an ugly, hurtful, wasteful, intimidating scenario for many.
Whatever records we provide to lawyers for now-convicted Bishop Finn, Fr. Tierney and other suspended, proven, admitted and accused Kansas City predator priests, will not be enough. Lawyers for these child molesting clerics and for Bishop Finn will keep pushing. Why? Because their goal is to distract, derail, and discredit us while deterring others who need our help from seeking it.
Staff and volunteers at the Missouri Coalition against Sexual Assault will spend precious time and resources discussing, researching and analyzing the tactics of Catholic church defense lawyers and the rulings of this court, trying to determine better ways to protect the privacy of victims who contact them for healing, support and information.
Staff and volunteers at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service in Jefferson City will do likewise. So will staff and volunteers at the Victims’ Center in Springfield. And almost certainly staff and volunteers at other non-profits, like the MO Victims’ Assistance Network will do the same.
As word of this legal struggle gets around, other agencies and organizations and self-help groups that help others in need will likely also divert some of their attention and efforts away from providing services to those in need and towards better protecting themselves, their staff and the clients they serve from the intimidating, overly-broad legal maneuvers and discovery demands from defense lawyers.
The service providers outside of MO are likely also strategizing and preparing now because they assume Catholic Church defense attorneys in their states may or will adopt similar hardball tactics as the Kansas City diocese and priests are using because they have been so successful in your court.
And lawyers across Missouri – for defendants and plaintiffs – will start anew pushing the boundaries of long-standing Missouri precedents and rulings about discovery – seeking more and more information, however irrelevant – from more and more sources (including non-litigants) causing more work for courts and more delays for everyone involved. Worse, they will make it less likely that those who see, suspect or suffer crimes – especially sex crimes – will report to law enforcement. That, of course, will give comfort and freedom to criminals, and allow some of them to continue hurting vulnerable adults and kids.
And it will make it even harder for crime victims – both those raped as adults and assaulted as kids – to feel comfortable reaching out for help, especially those hurt by powerful predators or in institutional settings.
More such victims will remain trapped in silence, shame, confusion, self-blame and fear, because defense lawyers for proven and credibly accused criminal clerics have so deviously pursued a morally bankrupt and callous legal strategy of coming after the private records of a self-help group.
And more activists and crime fighters who help expose wrongdoing and prevent assaults by speaking publicly will be chilled or silenced, or forced to spend more resources on preventing similar attacks on their organizations. Again, the beneficiaries will be criminals and those who aid and shield criminals.
But you’ve heard – and largely rejected – virtually all of these arguments.
Now, however, we are raising new concerns about two suspended and repeatedly accused Kansas City priests who we consider to be Missouri’s most dangerous child molesting clerics, – Fr. Thomas Reardon and Msgr. Thomas O’Brien.
Fr. Ratigan still faces pending criminal charges in one county and sentencing in another county. We would hate to be forced to divulge records that might somehow help him in his criminal defense and make it easier for him to get a lighter sentence, only to walk free sooner and again hurt children years from now. And we would hate to be forced to divulge records that might in any way complicate the diligent work of law enforcement authorities to successfully prosecute Fr. Ratigan to the fullest and keep him away from children for the longest time possible.
In a recent email, one of the church defense lawyers, Brian Madden, said that, as far as he was concerned, we need not turn over Fr. Ratigan documents now. But obviously, he could change his mind.
Both Reardon and O’Brien still live in Kansas City. Both have molested dozens of kids. Both have been sued dozens of times (and almost all of those suits have settled). Both often worked in concert, giving drugs and liquor and porn and “massages” to the same children, molesting them, and rationalizing one another’s crimes to these scared and confused youngsters who’d been taught since birth to respect, revere, trust and obey Catholic priests.
Basic psychology and common sense strongly suggest that both Reardon and O’Brien remain dangerous. And I can assure you, based on personal experience and contact with their victims over the years, Reardon and O’Brien have left a long, tragic string of devastated lives across the Kansas City Catholic diocese.
At this point, I just cannot, in good conscience, turn over to defense lawyers – either for Bishop Finn’s diocese or for these two men – our records about them. It sickens me to think about this possibility.
For the sake of those who they have hurt, I cannot. For the sake of those who they may be hurting, I cannot.
There’s another reason I’m terribly troubled about the possibility of turning over their records. Finally, decades after child sex allegations against him first surfaced, there is now a criminal investigation against O’Brien. We know of several victims who have given statements and interviews to police.
I would hate to do anything that might in any way jeopardize this long overdue and crucial move by local law enforcement. We’ve not spoken with police or prosecutors about this. So we have no idea how much evidence they have or when they might be able to file charges.
I respectfully urge that you reconsider forcing us to divulge any and every document or email we have that mentions Reardon or O’Brien.
If not, I respectfully urge you to postpone forcing me to do this until one of two things happens – first, these two child molesting clerics exhaust their appeals and remain defendants in this lawsuit, or until a criminal investigation into O’Brien is concluded.
My understanding is that Reardon and O’Brien were added recently - in the Tierney cases - as defendants. I’m told that they’ve each tried to win rulings knocking them out as defendants. But 23 years of experience tells me they’ll both try again. And experience tells me that they have – or will have – expensive, top notch legal talent in their corners. And experience tells me they may well succeed.
So if that’s a real possibility, isn’t it prudent to protect the privacy of individuals they have hurt until it’s clear whether these two repeatedly accused child molesters – one suspended and the other defrocked - end up as defendants here or not?
At a hearing in July, I'm told, Fr. Tierney’s lawyer Brian Madden noted that we in SNAP still had a chance to seek writs from appellate courts and the Missouri Supreme Court. He suggested that you wait until those options expired before setting a deadline for us to turn over records. And initially, verbally, you agreed that was a good idea.
That’s what I’m asking you to do now with our records concerning O’Brien and Reardon. Please let us protect the privacy of the deeply wounded and still suffering dozens of adults whose childhoods were stolen by these credibly accused child molesting clerics who have been or are being defrocked by their own Catholic supervisors.
Finally, your Honor, I understand that there's been no real ruling-by you or any other judge-as to whether SNAP is “covered” by Missouri’s rape crisis center law. You’ve essentially ruled, I’m told, that for now we should act as though our members and supporters have this protection, and we should redact their names and identifying information from the documents we are turning over.
But of course, once we provide those records, there’s a real risk you’ll issue a formal ruling that the rape crisis center law does not protect those who seek our help. Or that convicted wrongdoers like Bishop Finn and credibly accused wrongdoers like Fr. Tierney will appeal and win a higher court ruling that the rape crisis center law does not protect those who seek our help.
Our concern, naturally, is that days or weeks or months down the road, Bishop Finn and Fr. Tierney will demand that we once again go through hundreds of pages of private communications, redacting little or nothing, and that you will rule in their favor. That of course will mean more cost, inconvenience and dismay for us, but even worse, more anxiety, betrayal, and distraction from our work to expose the truth, heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable.
My request is that you not force this process to go any further. Please recognize that SNAP does not have any records that assist in the cases before you and stop the process which continues to needlessly hurt and frighten so many of us who have already suffered enough.