Victims' Group Leader Criticizes Interim Leader of Boston Archdiocese

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in Boston Globe
January 27, 2003

BOSTON (AP) The director of a national support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse says he is angry about Bishop Richard Lennon's use of a ''hardball tactics'' in subpoenaing victims' therapists to testify in civil lawsuits filed against the church.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Lennon has not reached out to victims since he took over as leader of the Boston archdiocese following Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation six weeks ago.

Instead, he has continued an adversarial relationship with people who were abused by priests as children, Clohessy said.

''Therapy for victims is absolutely critical, and anything that would stop them from seeking therapy or drive them away is a horrible re-victimization,'' he said.

''What makes it particularly egregious is the church has repeatedly said to victims, 'Come to us for healing.' It's the ultimate bait and switch.''

Clohessy and other victims' advocates are upset about a recent move by church lawyers to subpoena therapists who have treated victims to answer questions under oath in depositions for the lawsuits.

Lennon has said that the subpoenas are a standard legal practice necessary to convince the archdiocese's insurance companies that the church did everything it could to defend itself against the lawsuits.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, said there is bound to be a certain amount of conflict while the archdiocese is being sued and at the same time offering counseling services to victims.

''The best thing for all us would be to settle these cases as quickly as we can and as fairly as we can so as to lay to rest a lot of the emotion that's swirling around the present situation,'' Coyne said.

Coyne said Lennon has had small, private meetings with some victims and has scheduled additional meetings in the coming weeks. He would not say how many victims Lennon has met.

Approximately 400 alleged victims have filed lawsuits against the church, arguing that church supervisors were negligent when they moved abusive priests from parish to parish rather than removing them so they would no longer have access to children.

Lennon has been pushing for victims to agree to negotiated settlements rather than to go to trial in the suits.

SNAP, based in St. Louis, Mo., has grown from a small group of abuse victims in 1989 to an organization that now has approximately 4,400 members in 32 chapters around the country. Much of the growth came during the last year, when the clergy abuse scandal exploded in Boston and eventually spread to dioceses around the country.

Clohessy is in Massachusetts this week meeting with victims and helping to launch a new chapter of SNAP in Worcester. On Sunday, he was among 200 demonstrators who gathered outside St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester, N.H., to call for the resignation of Bishop John McCormack, a former top aide to Law.

Clohessy said victims in Massachusetts, in some ways, are ahead of other dioceses in exposing the extent of the problem and beginning to deal with the effects of sexual abuse. But he said church officials have followed the advice of their attorneys in defending themselves against the lawsuits, instead of reaching out to victims and trying to help them.

In addition to subpoenaing therapists, the Boston archdiocese argued in court that all of the lawsuits should be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. Because of the separation of church and state, civil courts are barred from getting involved in how church officials supervise priests. Church lawyers have also argued that certain lawsuits should be thrown out because too many years have passed since the abuse allegedly took place.

''They clearly need to end the tactics,'' Clohessy said.

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.