Sexual Abuse More Widespread Than Church Admits, Victims Say

The Associated Press, carried in Anchorage Daily News [Mississippi]
Downloaded June 4, 2003

JACKSON, Miss. (June 4, 10:54 a.m. ADT) - Church documents show more than 20 priests or Roman Catholic officials in Mississippi have been accused of sexually molesting parishioners and youths over several decades, three times the number claimed in pending lawsuits, victims of alleged abuse say.

The plaintiffs in lawsuits against the church say the documents, inadvertently forwarded to them by the church's own lawyers, support their claim that abuse here was more widespread than once believed and that the church continues to conceal it.

The church, which is demanding the return of the documents, says no priest against whom there is a credible claim of sexual misconduct is in active ministry within the Jackson diocese.

Lawsuits against the church in Mississippi claim Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston on Dec. 13 over his handling of the sex abuse scandal there, knew of sexual abuse by priests even when he was serving in Jackson in the 1960s. That's long before the time he has acknowledged knowing of such abuse.

At least 18 people are suing the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, claiming abuse by at least seven priests.

In a motion posted on the Internet this week by a victims support group - Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP - plaintiffs' lawyers assistant Marcie Fyke said the church acknowledged in the documents that 22 priests have been accused of sexual abuse over the years.

Fyke did not identify the priests. She wrote in her motion that one is currently in a ranking position in the diocese and presumably contributing to the church's decision to fight an earlier court order to turn over information on other priests accused of molestation.

The church had appealed that earlier order to the state Supreme Court, arguing in part that the constitutional separation of church and state protects them from such civil court jurisdiction.

Fyke's motion also was filed with the state Supreme Court, where the documents are the subject of a dispute over whether they should be sealed.

The church is asking the high court to order the documents returned. The diocese says the victims have "twisted the facts" in the documents.

The diocese's judicial vicar, the Rev. Keith Slattery, said Wednesday that while he was not familiar with civil procedures, "as I understand it, their (plaintiffs) attorney was not at liberty to disclose this but she did."

Slattery said the diocese was reviewing published reports about the matter and may have a statement later.

Fyke was out of her office Wednesday and not available for comment.

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