Lawyer for Church Says He Hid His Own Sexual
Abuse by Priest
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
The New York Times
Published: November 25, 2003
For five years, Robert P. Scamardo defended the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Galveston-Houston against lawsuits by people who
claimed to have been sexually abused by priests.
As general counsel, he vigorously resisted accusers, he said,
fending off their lawsuits and collaborating with church officials
to send them away quietly, with as little money as possible.
He said he felt good about his job until one negotiating
session with a gray-haired woman who said, through tears,
that the molesting she suffered long ago was still causing
her depression, marital strife and sexual problems. "You can't
possibly understand," she insisted.
Mr. Scamardo said he desperately wanted to tell her, "Yes,
Of the thousands of people who have fought the church over
sexual abuse charges, Mr. Scamardo is the only one known to
have fought from both sides.
While representing the church as a trusted insider, Mr. Scamardo
said, he was secretly struggling to cope with his own sexual
abuse as a teenager by a priest and a lay youth minister.
The conflict between his inner and outer selves brought anguish,
thoughts of suicide and finally a confrontation with the diocese.
When he sought compensation from the church as an abuse victim
this year, he came up against a bishop and lawyers aggressively
guarding church assets.
In an interview in Houston, Mr. Scamardo provided a window
into how church lawyers worked to deter lawsuits, minimize
the church's payouts, limit coverage for therapy and keep
any settlements secret.
It was always the church, he said, that insisted on inserting
confidentiality clauses in the settlements — never the
victims, as many bishops have contended. He said that while
the eruption of the scandal last year had made bishops more
likely to express compassion toward victims, the church's
lawyers were still playing hardball behind the scenes.
And he said he was certain there were many more abusive priests
and victims than have become public.
Mr. Scamardo said he left his post when the dissonance between
his past and his present became so unbearable he began to
think of suicide. Three weeks ago, after months of wrangling,
he signed a financial settlement with the Diocese of Austin,
where he said the abuse occurred.
"If they're playing the game with me like that this year,
then nothing has changed," Mr. Scamardo said.
Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin declined to give an interview,
but said in a statement: "I deeply regret any pain Mr. Scamardo
may have suffered and pray that he will know God's healing.
While we cannot change the past, the diocese has established
extensive programs to prevent sexual abuse in our parishes
and schools in the future."
The statement said the diocese had paid for "extensive counseling
for Mr. Scamardo."
In the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, where Mr. Scamardo worked,
Msgr. Frank H. Rossi, the chancellor who hired him, and Bishop
Joseph A. Fiorenza declined to comment, saying they wanted
to protect his confidentiality as a former employee.
Annette Gonzales Taylor, the director of communications for
the diocese, said that she had worked with Mr. Scamardo and
considered him a friend but that she and others had no idea
he was carrying such a burden until soon before he left.
"Robert is a very good man, and he was a very valued employee
here," she said. "We were heartbroken, devastated when we
learned from him what had happened."
Mr. Scamardo, 44, said he still struggled not to feel ashamed
about what happened when he was 15 and the newly elected president
of the Catholic Youth Organization for the Diocese of Austin.
He was invited to a convention of the Texas Catholic Conference
in San Antonio and, he said, did not raise questions when
the Rev. Dan Delaney, director for youth ministry for the
Austin Diocese, arranged for them to share a hotel room. That
night, Mr. Scamardo said, he awoke to find Father Delaney
on top of him, masturbating him. Mr. Scamardo said he ran
into the hallway. The priest never mentioned the matter, he
Mr. Scamardo said he soon told James Reese, the lay youth
minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Austin, who listened sympathetically
— then sexually abused him on several occasions.