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SNAP Leaders Urge Caution With Possible St. Louis Settlement Talks
Two Mediators Apparently Chosen By Attorneys Involved
Group Urges Victims To Contact Law Enforcement, Not Church
Leaders of a local self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims are urging others who have been molested to be cautious about possible settlement talks with St. Louis archdiocesan defense lawyers.
According to yesterday's St. Louis Review http://www.stlouisreview.com/article.php?id=5152), the archdiocesan weekly newspaper, retired judge Brendan Ryan and attorney Michael Geigerman have been chosen by both sides - attorneys for victims and attorneys for the archdiocese - to act as mediators.
"We're hopeful that proposed talks may be a good faith effort by archdiocesan leaders. We fear, however, that such talks may be one more attempt to persuade victims to report to the church instead of to the police and prosecutors," said St. Louis SNAP leader Barbara Dorris.
If settlement talks do occur, SNAP leaders urge those who have been sexually victimized by clergy to avoid getting their hopes up throughout the process. "Victims have already been severely hurt, once by an abuser and a second time by a church bureaucracy," Dorris said. "The last thing anyone needs is to get hurt again, by having artificially inflated hopes destroyed if real talks don't happen or real progress isn't made."
She cited the Father John Geoghan case in Boston as an example of negotiations which hurt victims along the way. In that case, archdiocesan officials announced that a $30 million agreement had been reached with 86 of Geoghan's victims. But the archdiocesan finance council nixed the deal, causing "tremendous pain" to dozens of victims, Dorris said. Eventually, after going back to court, a $10 million settlement was finalized.
SNAP leaders encourage others who were victimized or who know of or suspect abuse by church employees to speak up. The group particularly urges victims to contact "the trained, experienced and independent professionals in law enforcement," said SNAP national director David Clohessy. "Those who are hurting and who worry about the safety of kids must keep doing their civic and Christian duty - they must come forward if abuse is to be prevented in the future. But they should take the prudent course, and report to police and prosecutors, not church leaders."
"No matter what police, prosecutors, judges or church officials do, we who have been hurt must keep warning parents about dangerous priests, inviting other victims to come forward and get healing, while using therapy and support groups to help ourselves recover from this trauma," said Kevin O'Connor, a Virginia man, SNAP member and former St. Louis University High School student who recently disclosed the abuse he suffered at the hands of a Jesuit priest, Father Jack Campbell. O'Connor hired an attorney and received $185,000. The Jesuits have since admitted they reached quiet settlements with at least 12 other victims of Campbell, who now lives in Denver.
Every known or suspected molester who has been removed only because "at least one victim overcame their hopelessness and helplessness and fear, and stuck their neck out to safeguard others," said Clohessy.
If talks begin, the credit goes "to the brave St. Louis area survivors who continue to step forward, call law enforcement, speak out, and expose wrongdoers," said Dorris. If these potential negotiations represent progress, Dorris believes all the credit goes to the victims themselves.
"Whether they file police reports or civil lawsuits, speak publicly or disclose privately, every victim who comes forward helps inspire others to finally end their silence. If church defense lawyers finally stop stonewalling and start talking, it will be a small victory for these determined and conscientious victims. Every St. Louis Catholic should be grateful that these wounded but courageous men, women and teenagers are breaking their silence and protecting others."
Plaintiff's attorneys include Susan Carlson (872 8420) and Ken Chackes of St. Louis and Patrick Noaker of St. Paul MN (612 961 1307 cell, 651 227 9990).
Defense attorneys include Bernard Hugar (636-742-4413) and Martin Hadican (432-7360) of St. Louis.
Archdiocesan public relations staffers include Jim Orso (792-7631 or 351-9452) and Terry Edelman.
"Regardless of what happens in the legal realm, we will continue to offer all the help we possibly can to those who have been devastated by the misdeeds of church employees and those who enabled or covered up the misdeeds," Clohessy stressed.
Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests