Survivors of church abuse laud Missouri Supreme Court ruling on evidence in lawsuits

Survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests lauded a Missouri Supreme Court decision that will allow some circumstantial evidence to be presented in lawsuits.

A small group of volunteers with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests gathered Wednesday outside the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in downtown Kansas City.

“The Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling yesterday, essentially made it somewhat easier for victims to expose predators and protect kids through civil lawsuits,” said SNAP member David Clohessy. “Let’s be clear — Missouri has always been and remains a very tough state for victims to get justice in, but yesterday was progress.”

The St. Louis County case alleged that a priest associated with the Marianist Province and Chaminade College Preparatory abused a student in the early 1970s.

The high court said an expert could testify about reports made about the priest’s abuse which were “written in the euphemistic or coded language that has been and continues to be commonly used by Catholic bishops, religious superiors and other clerics, when referring to sexual abuse with minors.”

Such testimony, for instance, has been admitted when interpreting coded language and symbols developed by street gangs, the court wrote.

Attorney Rebecca Randles said using coded words was a prevalent practice utilized by the church.

“When we get their files, their files are rife with this coded language about ‘he had a problem’ or ‘he had an issue,’ and it never specifies,” Randles said. “Now if he’s an alcoholic, it’ll say ‘he’s going to treatment for alcoholism at this place.’ But if it has something to do with sexual abuse of children, language is often coded.”

Randles has represented several victims of abuse, one of whom recently received a $60,000 settlement after alleging that Father Sandy Sinclair engaged in physical and sexual abuse at St. John’s Seminary in Kansas City.

Randles said Sinclair’s name should be added to the diocese’s official list of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse. Currently, 23 clergy are listed.

Sinclair died last fall.

Clohessy agreed, saying the diocese has failed to include names of former Kansas City area priests that went on to be credibly accused by other dioceses.

“Church officials here and elsewhere continue to hide crucial information that will help police and help parents, their kids, and that will help still suffering victims recover from this horror,” he said. “If (Bishop James Johnston) genuinely cared, why wouldn’t he put out the name of every single dangerous or credibly accused molester? Why wouldn’t he put out their photos, their whereabouts, their work histories.”

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph did not respond to a voicemail left Wednesday.

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