Lawyer for Church Says He Hid His Own Sexual Abuse
The New York Times
Published: November 25, 2003
The Diocese of Austin said neither of the men accused of abuse
was now in ministry. Reached by telephone in Houston, Mr. Delaney
said he remembered Mr. Scamardo "vaguely." Asked whether he had
sexually abused him, Mr. Delaney said, "I don't have any comment
on that, thank you," and hung up.
In a letter to Mr. Scamardo in March, Bishop Aymond wrote that
Mr. Delaney had been laicized by the Vatican in 1987. Mr. Reese
was enrolled as a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin as recently
as September 2002. But he was dismissed immediately after Mr. Scamardo
identified him as one of his abusers, the bishop said.
Mr. Reese, reached by phone in Austin on Saturday, said, "While
it may be true we did have a relationship, I don't think it's the
way he says."
He added of Mr. Scamardo: "I hope he heals, I really do. I've been
praying a lot for him. But any explanation I might give might deter
from that healing because I don't remember the events the way he
For 27 years, Mr. Scamardo said, he went into "shutdown" about
the abuse, telling no one else. Instead, he studied to be a priest
at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, but dropped out
a year before ordination when he became aware he could never be
celibate. He worked on Capitol Hill, married and had three children
but never told his wife about the abuse. He went to law school,
was hired by a firm in Houston and was headed for partner, he said.
In 1997, Monsignor Rossi, an old seminary classmate, recruited
him to work as general counsel in the Galveston-Houston diocese.
Mr. Scamardo said he was idealistic about serving the church but
blind to "something unhealthy" about his decision.
Church lawyers at that time, he said, were reeling from a recent
jury decision in Dallas to award $119.5 million to 11 plaintiffs
who had been sexually abused by a priest, Rudolph Kos. The lesson
for the church's lawyers, Mr. Scamardo said, was "these are not
the sort of cases you want to get in front of a jury."
So, he said, he devoted about half of his time as general counsel
to negotiating with sexual abuse victims, investigating their claims
and finding ways to limit the church's liability. He estimated that
he handled cases involving 20 to 30 victims but said he dealt only
with those who retained lawyers and sued. There were more victims
who contacted the chancery without intending to sue, he said.
The Diocese of Galveston-Houston has not made public how many of
its priests have been accused, said Mrs. Gonzales Taylor, the director
of communications. Research published in The New York Times in January
found five accused priests in that diocese, but Mr. Scamardo said
he was aware of more.
This is true for many dioceses, said some church officials who
were unwilling to be named but who knew partial results of a survey
the bishops have commissioned to assess the extent of the abuse.
That report is to be released in February.
Mr. Scamardo said that throughout the 1990's, Bishop Fiorenza consistently
removed priests credibly accused of abuse. But, Mr. Scamardo said,
the bishop told parishes only that priests were leaving for "personal
reasons" or "medical leave of absence."
"They assume that all sorts of people are going to fabricate claims,
as if everyone wants to be known as a sexual abuse victim," Mr.
Most victims' cases were beyond the statute of limitations, so
the diocese could offer little to settle a case, perhaps just the
cost of a short course of therapy, he said. If that failed, he said,
church lawyers would petition to have cases dismissed on First Amendment
grounds, arguing that the government must not meddle in church matters.
The settlements always had a confidentiality clause. Like other
diocesan lawyers, Mr. Scamardo said, he often added a clause specifying
how much the victim would have to pay the church for breaking confidentiality.
The standard approach was to offer to pay only for the victims'
counseling, and even this came with strings attached, he said. The
diocese kept a list of preferred therapists and limited the number
of sessions it would pay for. A year of counseling was considered
generous, Mr. Scamardo said. He said he found that unfair, saying
it had taken three years of counseling before he began to talk about
his sexual abuse.
And yet, by all accounts, Mr. Scamardo was an aggressive and successful
advocate for the diocese.
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