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Lawyer for Church Says He Hid His Own Sexual Abuse by Priest

The New York Times
Published: November 25, 2003

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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 does."

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. Scamardo said.

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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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests