Clergy sex abuse victims are asking the Missouri Supreme Court to block or limit demands by Kansas City Catholic officials for potentially hundreds or thousands of pages of their self help group’s records. And they’re picking up support from widely disparate sources.
On Friday, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, filed a writ to the state’s highest court to stop what they call “expensive, intrusive, hurtful and intimidating” discovery requests by lawyers for several suspended Kansas City area Catholic priests accused of molesting children.
And this week, three amicus briefs have been filed backing SNAP’s position. One is by two current Missouri prosecutors and four former prosecutors. The other two are signed by 24 local and national organizations. They include The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal organization that helped Paula Jones pursue her sexual harassment case against then-President Bill Clinton and the liberal Call to Action, which advocates ordaining women.
“If this court permits the circuit court’s discovery order, sex abuse victims and the organizations that support them will suffer irreparable harm,” the prosecutors’ brief maintains.
It’s highly unusual for prosecutors to weigh in on a civil matter.
“If this judge’s ruling stands, victims will be chilled from disclosure and cooperation once they know that decades later, in an unrelated civil lawsuit between parties, their privacy may be invaded and their confidential communications may be disclosed,” the prosecutors say.
“As abusers learn that victims are increasingly unlikely to report their abuse, child abuse rates may increase.”
“The disclosure order in this case foments fear and intimidation of victims, which in turn threatens all private organizations dedicated to serving victims of crime,” argue MaleSurvivor and Cardozo Advocates for Kids in their brief. “Fear is a weapon that censors speech and shuts down organizations.”
“Turning over these private emails and letters would endanger kids by scaring people who see, suspect or suffer child sex crimes from calling police, helping prosecutors, exposing wrongdoing and seeking therapy,” said SNAP president Barbara Blaine of Chicago. “It would also rub even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of thousands of betrayed Catholics and hundreds of suffering victims.”
“From the start of this legal hardball by church officials, we’ve promised victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, police, prosecutors and journalists that we’ll do everything possible to protect their privacy. That’s what we’ll keep doing,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, the organization’s outreach director.
“This case will end up either providing more safety or less safety to hundreds who suffer from violent crimes – adult rape victims, battered spouses, molested kids and others,” Dorris said. “So we feel we’re duty-bound to keep battling child molesting clerics and their corrupt supervisors, or else we put many others at risk of more pain, abuse and privacy violations.”
The discovery demands – ranging over 23 years of SNAP’s records- arise from a case called John Doe BP v. Fr. James Tierney and the Kansas City diocese. Facing five accusers in pending civil lawsuits, Tierney has been suspended from active ministry by embattled Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who himself faces charges of concealing suspected child sex crimes by a now imprisoned priest, Fr. Shawn Ratigan.
Organizations signing the two amicus briefs include the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Call to Action, Child Protect Project, The Coalition for Children, Kansas City Community Together, Faith Trust Institute, Feminist Majority Foundation, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, Inc., KidSafe Foundation, The Leadership Council, Missouri University Family Violence Clinic, MO Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, The National Black Church Initiative, The National Center for Victims of Crime/ National Crime Victim Bar Association, The National Child Protection Training Center, National Organization of Woman, The Rutherford Institute, Stop Child Predators, Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E., Inc.), Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc, Survivors For Justice, Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, VOTF, and the California Anti-SLAPP Project (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).
One of the briefs was written by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding dean of the University of California law school. Chemerinsky, a Harvard Law School graduate, is considered one of the nation’s foremost constitutional law scholars.
“We’re very grateful to the groups and prosecutors who are getting involved to protect adults who have been molested and kids who may be molested,” said Blaine of SNAP. “This is a very impressive collection of sharp legal minds and deeply compassionate advocates. We’re thrilled to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them to preserve privacy, comfort victims and deter wrongdoing.”
SNAP’s writ is captioned “David Clohessy v. The Honorable Judge Ann Mesle,” the Kansas City judge who has been overseeing the case. Clohessy is SNAP’s director.
SNAP is being represented by pro bono by attorneys Bryan Bacon of Columbia (firstname.lastname@example.org, 573 874 7777) and Brendan Donelon of Kansas City. (email@example.com, 816 221 7100)
Over the past six months, at least four major daily newspapers have editorialized in favor of SNAP and against Catholic officials on this issue: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Kansas City Star. The Kansas City-based independent weekly National Catholic Reporter has as well.
NOTE – in one amicus, Jeff Jensen’s name is misspelled and he is a former Executive US Attorney, not a former US Attorney.