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Sex Abuse Victims Deplore New Detroit Court Ruling
Rigid, Arbitrary Time Limit Is Upheld
They Again Urge Catholic Church Official To 'Fight Fair'
Group Objects To Archbishop's Use of Legal Technicalities
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is deploring a new court ruling which makes it harder for those who were molested to seek justice in court.
They again are urging Detroit's top Catholic official to "stop hiding behind legal technicalities" in cases involving abusive clergy.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are "disappointed but determined" after a three person Court of Appeals panel upheld, by a 2-1 margin, Michigan's statute of limitations. A lower court had ruled in the victims' favor.
"Kids can't recognize they're being hurt, and many adults cope with abuse by denying and minimizing it," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director. "These two judges ."
Only a few Detroit area clergy sex abuse cases are likely to be affected. Most involve courts across the country, Clohessy said, are taking the opposite course. "Judges are gradually realizing that the deck is stacked in favor of molesters, and that kids __"
SNAP wants Cardinal Adam Maida to treat men and women who were sexually assaulted "with compassion, not combativeness."
Maida is seeking to have a civil sex abuse lawsuit against a Detroit area priest tossed out because of the statute of limitations. SNAP maintains that church officials should not "hide behind" an "archaic technicality."
"If you insist on fighting men who were raped and sodomized by an abusive priest, at least have the decency to fight fair, and not fight dirty," said Clohessy. "Fight on the merits, not on technicalities and loopholes like the archaic and dangerously restrictive statute of limitations."
"Catholics desperately want to believe that bishops are being more sensitive to victims," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP's President. "But Catholics need to see real change, not just lip service. Stopping legal hardball is an ideal way for Maida to show he's learned from his past failures."
The hearing is Nov 2, at 10 a.m. in the Court of Appeals. The case is called John Doe vs. Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. It involves a serial perpetrator-priest, Fr. Robert Burkholder. Plaintiff's attorneys include Cy Weiner, Elizabeth Thomson and Alan Falk.
SNAP, is the nation's oldest and largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse with support groups in over 60 cities nation wide.
Below is SNAP's letter to Maida, which was sent in October by fax and e mail.
Oct. 29, 2004
Dear Cardinal Maida:
We understand that you keep using, like so many of your brother bishops, the same old discredited and hurtful hardball legal tactics. On Tuesday, your well-paid defense lawyers will try to help you evade justice and accountability by taking advantage of the archaic and dangerously restrictive statute of limitations. Doing this, of course, also means delaying healing and closure for victims who have already suffered immeasurably. Your goal is clear: you want to deny victims their day in court, keep the truth hidden, and protect your assets and reputation.
We beg you to reconsider. There's still time to chart a new course, live up to your promises, and, in the interest of healing and justice and prevention, withdraw your legal motion. We urge you to do so.
Time and time again, victims have given your archdiocese an opportunity to do the right thing.
Sadly, after repeatedly calling and writing and meeting with your staff, many victims were bitterly disappointed and still hurting. Some, in desperation, turned to the time-tested, impartial American judicial system to warn others about dangerous predators and get some degree of healing and validation.
But you want to deny them this opportunity.
Remember that many victims were devout and trusting Catholics. They devoted years of their lives to supporting and serving the church. They come from very devout Catholic families. They attended Catholic schools. They did what bishops and other church leaders beg victims to do: report to church officials. They have patiently given you and your colleagues more than ample time to respond with decency and compassion.
Their reward for all this: to be treated as the enemy, and to be met with stiff-arm, scorched earth legal defense maneuvers.
You have a legal right, of course, to hide behind the statute of limitations. You also have a legal right to seek to keep disturbing secrets hidden. But religious leaders possess many legal rights that they wisely choose not to exercise: to go to topless bars, to support abortion clinics, to sell pornography, to carry concealed weapons. Just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.
Common decency tells us that you cannot hold yourself out as a Christian leader while using technicalities to evade your responsibilities. Nor can you take actions that can only hurt the already-wounded, while publicly professing to care about abuse victims.
So we plead with you to act as Jesus would toward these courageous victims. Learn from the mistakes and ultimately self-defeating hardball tactics of the past. Take a different course. Respond with compassion, not combativeness.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests