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SNAP New England leader Phil Saviano (left) speaks at Harvard Square press conference. With Phil are abuse activist Susan Renehan and Attorney Wendy Murphy (right).

Worcester Diocese Withdraws SNAP Subpoena

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, September 3, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The bishop of the Diocese of Worcester instructed attorneys to drop a subpoena demanding a volunteer priest sex abuse support group turn over names of victims, saying he just learned about it in the newspaper this weekend.

The diocese on Monday withdrew the subpoena to the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, and pledged to never reissue it in the case after the request by Bishop Daniel Reilly.

"It shows the success of the survivors standing up and saying, 'Don't mess with us,"' said Philip Saviano, regional head of SNAP.

The Sept. 9 subpoena instructed SNAP to disclose all information it had in the case of five women who alleged the church didn't protect them from the

Rev. Robert E. Kelley, who was convicted of rape and has admitted molesting 50 to 100 girls at St. Cecilia's in Leominster 20 years ago.

It also demanded "names of all persons" who ever alleged to SNAP that a priest in the Worcester diocese abused them.

The requests prompted an outcry from victims and their advocates, who said it was an attempt to intimidate them into silence.

"We truly were horrified and we realized (the church) will stop at nothing," said Susan Renehan of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors.

"We take care of ourselves and this is the kind of thing we get from the church -- intimidation, revictimization and harassment."

But Reilly said in a statement the diocese's insurance company made the request without his knowledge, and he was "dismayed" to learn about it in Sunday's newspapers.

"The Diocese of Worcester is committed to the care and support of those who have been victims of child sexual abuse by clergy and I stand unequivocally by that commitment," Reilly said.

Saviano questioned why Reilly didn't know about the subpoena, given that lawyers for the insurance company and the diocese itself were informed when the subpoena was issued.

"If the bishop wasn't in the loop, I think that's a whole other problem," he said.

Neither the diocese nor SNAP officials could identify the insurance company. The company's attorney, Joanne Goulka, did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.

Saviano added the damage has already been done because victims groups around the country now fear similar attempts to seize records.

"I think there's a level of paranoia that exists after this weekend, that didn't exist previously," he said.

SNAP attorney Wendy Murphy said she thought the intent of the subpoena was "malicious" because of how broad its demands were, and because there's little chance it would have produced any information beyond what known about the well-documented Kelley case.

Murphy added the case would have raised questions about current law, which isn't clear on how communications between victims and non-professional counselors are protected. Murphy said SNAP would meet to discuss revising its procedures, but she added it's unlikely the diocese will attempt anything similar in the future.

"I suspect they won't because they didn't like how this felt," she said. Worcester diocese spokesman Ray Delisle said the diocese's attorneys erred by not informing the bishop of the subpoena, but there was no ill intent.

"It's not that ... there's an attempt at intimidation," he said. "It was being perceived that way so the bishop took the action of having it dropped."

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests