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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Thursday, May 7, 2009

Clergy sex abuse victims blast Ohio Supreme Court judge

Statement by Claudia Vercellotti, Toledo Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (419 345 9291)

We're very disappointed that Judge Lanzinger refused to recuse herself in this case. We believe it's problematic for her to be involved in any way in a Catholic church controversy, since she sat for nearly a decade on a church sex abuse policy panel. In addition, she worked as a paid employee for the Toledo diocese's defense lawyers.

These kinds of close ties between a judge and church officials discourage clergy sex abuse victims from reporting the horrific crimes they've suffered.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 20 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688)


http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090507/NEWS10/905070344/-1/OPINION02

Article published May 07, 2009

Court rejects appeal in closed-church case
Toledo bishop shut St. James in 2005
By DAVID YONKE, BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear an appeal by members of the former St. James Catholic Parish in Kansas, Ohio, a rural church closed by Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair in July, 2005.

The court gave no reason for its unanimous, 7-0 decision.

Members of the closed parish, located in rural Seneca County about 40 miles southeast of Toledo, said yesterday they were disappointed, but not surprised.

"Based on the way some of the courts have been ruling in the past, it was a long shot," Steve Johnson said. "We felt the law was on our side all along, but sometimes there are political forces and other forces at work that make these things difficult for a small parish like ours."

He said the members have not decided whether to pursue further legal action, which has cost them approximately $100,000 thus far.

Parishioners began fighting to save their church even before it was closed, holding a continuous prayer vigil in the white, wood-framed church from May, 2005, until the diocese locked them out in March, 2006.

They filed an appeal with the Vatican, which ruled that Bishop Blair and the Toledo diocese properly followed church law in closing the parish.

The ex-parishioners then took their case to civil court, filing a suit in Seneca County Common Pleas Court in June, 2006.

The group sought ownership of St. James Church and property for their "use and enjoyment" and did not seek to have the church reinstated as a Roman Catholic parish.

The diocese contended that closing St. James Parish was an internal church matter, that the deed to the property was in Bishop Blair's name, and that the former parishioners "have no legal right to any diocese or St. James Parish property."

It cited the need for church-state separation and called the ex-parishioners "a disgruntled group … unhappy with the bishop's decision."

Seneca County Common Pleas Court ruled in the diocese's favor in March, 2008, and the Ohio 3rd District Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in December, 2008.

St. James parish, founded in 1889, had about 200 members when it was closed. Mr. Johnson said between 35 and 60 members of Kansas St. James Parish of Ohio, Inc. - a nonprofit organization formed by the parishioners in 2006 - continue to meet weekly for prayer services in a Kansas Methodist church.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154


October 18, 2004

Sex-Victims Group Targets Lanzinger - SNAP Claims Diocese Work Posed a Conflict
By David Yonke, Toledo Blade [Toledo OH], October 18, 2004

A Toledo group formed to fight for victims of clerical sexual abuse has turned its sights on the candidacy of Judith Ann Lanzinger for the Ohio Supreme Court.

The group - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP - claims Judge Lanzinger had a conflict of interest and showed poor judgment for leading a committee of the Toledo Catholic Diocese that drafted policies dealing with reports of abuse while she was serving as a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge.

SNAP charges that Judge Lanzinger's committee approved a policy in 1995 that was vaguely worded and failed to make clear that allegations of child abuse should immediately be reported to the police rather than to a diocesan case manager.

The victims' group also said her leadership of the diocesan panel from May, 1993, until October, 2002, created a potential conflict of interest involving lawsuits filed against the diocese. The group contended that abuse victims would be hesitant to appeal their cases to the Ohio Supreme Court if Judge Lanzinger wins the election on Nov. 2.

A Republican now on the 6th District Court of Appeals, she is running against Democrat Nancy Fuerst, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge, for the seat to be vacated by retiring Democratic Justice Francis Sweeney.

Judge Lanzinger said the policy drafted by the 11-member Bishop's Study Committee on Sexual Abuse for the Toledo diocese was not ambiguous and that it was one of the first in the country to address allegations of sexual abuse against priests and to seek ways to prevent more instances of abuse.

"We made sure that all civil and criminal aspects of Ohio law were followed," she said.

The dispute over the policy that Judge Lanzinger's committee wrote comes down to who should be "immediately" notified in case of suspected abuse.

The policy, SNAP says, is confusing because it states in one paragraph that diocese workers who witness or suspect abuse should "immediately" inform law-enforcement officials. Another paragraph in the policy states that church employees should "immediately" inform the diocese's case manager when they witness or suspect abuse.

Claudia Vercellotti, co-coordinator of the Toledo chapter of SNAP, said that by telling people to report to a diocesan case manager, charges could be delayed or even buried by church officials.

"Those delays strip individuals of legal remedy because the statute of limitations can expire," Ms. Vercellotti said. "All victims want is their day in court, and they don't get that" because of the statute of limitations.

She said such policies should be designed to send "a clear message" that allegations of criminal sexual abuse should first be reported to police, prosecutors, or the Children's Services Board.

The policy formulated by Judge Lanzinger's committee was revised in February, 2004, to more clearly instruct diocesan employees to call police first, after which they should notify diocesan officials about alleged sexual abuse of minors.

The revisions were made to bring the diocese into compliance with a 2002 charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops on handling allegations of abuse.

Judge Lanzinger was elected to the Common Pleas bench in 1989 and served in that post until she won a seat on the Court of Appeals in 2002.

Judge Lanzinger resigned her post on the diocesan committee in 2002 after a complaint was filed with the Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court about her work on the committee.

The complaint was filed by Linda Waters of Sandusky, who said last week that she had "a big concern that the judge agreed to serve as chairman of a committee that potentially dealt with cases that would have been heard in the Court of Common Pleas." At the time, Judge Lanzinger acknowledged the complaint and that the Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel had recommended that she step down from the church committee to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

Judge Lanzinger recently said she also resigned from the church panel in October, 2002, because lawsuits had been filed in Common Pleas Court alleging sexual abuse by priests and diocesan employees.

A total of 19 such lawsuits against the diocese were filed starting in April, 2002.

"I certainly wouldn't have been a judge in any of those cases," Judge Lanzinger said. "But once lawsuits were filed, I stepped down."

David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, said he believes the guidelines drawn up by Judge Lanzinger's panel in 1995 were misleading.

"I think your average person, and certainly your average victim, would read this policy and say, 'I'm supposed to call the diocese, not the cops.' " he said. "She could have chosen to write very explicitly that the abuse of children is a crime and should be reported to police."

If church officials are notified before law-enforcement authorities, Mr. Clohessy said, "there is a chance for evidence to be destroyed, witnesses to be tampered with, and victims to be intimidated."

He cited a case in Chicago where the archdiocese was notified of allegations against a priest before police were informed. Within hours, Mr. Clohessy said, "The priest hopped on a plane to India," and eluded authorities.

Judge Lanzinger said the controversy being raised by SNAP involves a committee that met "a long time ago." She also said that it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the workings of the committee she led now that she is no longer a member.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org
 


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