Diocese Seeks to Make Public IDs of Alleged Victims

By Michael Fisher
The Press-Enterprise [San Diego CA]
August 22, 2006

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego have asked a judge to order those claiming sexual abuse by clergy to reveal their identities in public court documents so that church leaders can adequately defend themselves in the first lawsuits headed for trial early next year.

Three of the five cases scheduled for trial in San Diego involve former Inland priests, including one lawsuit that alleges Monsignor Patrick J. O'Keeffe molested a teenage girl in Highland in 1972.

The motion, which could effect more than 800 of clergy abuse lawsuits pending in Southern California, drew angry reactions from victims' attorneys and advocates, who criticized the request as an intimidation tactic intended to shame accusers into dropping their litigation or to prevent others from coming forward.

In much of the litigation, plaintiffs are identified only as John or Jane Doe, or by a first name and last initial in court documents, although their full names have been shared with the diocese, attorneys said.

In the motion filed this month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, attorney Brandy Thompson Cody argued that the San Diego Diocese's constitutional rights are being violated because it is prevented from making the accusers' names public in the search for witnesses who can aid the defense. She argued that California law requires those who sue to be identified by their full name except in rare cases.

The accusers "can show no social stigma or threat of physical harm by virtue of having been purported victims of childhood sexual abuse," Thompson Cody wrote, later, adding: "The probability is high that if (accusers') names were to become public, previously unidentifiable witnesses would come out of the woodwork to offer facts regarding some to the plaintiffs' allegations."

"Public disclosure of the plaintiff's names may be the only forum for (the diocese) to discover relevant information," she added.

Neither Thompson Cody nor San Diego diocesan officials could be reached for comment Tuesday. Officials with the San Bernardino Diocese also could not be reached for comment.

Victims' attorney Irwin Zalkin lambasted the diocese's motion, calling it ironic given church leaders past efforts to keep confidential the identities of priests accused of sexual abuse.

"It's nonsense. . . . They are allowed to use the real names of victims in depositions and in their investigation," said Zalkin, who represents a man in one of the five cases set for trial. "This doesn't impede their ability to investigate these cases."

Zalkin's client is suing the San Diego Diocese, claiming he was abused as a child in 1976 at an El Centro church by Edward Anthony Rodrigue, a longtime Inland priest. Now defrocked, Rodrigue is living in San Bernardino after being released from prison earlier this year after an 8-year sentence for molesting a Highland boy.

David Clohessy; executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national self-help and victims' advocacy group, said he has never heard of such a motion being filed in the thousands of past or pending clergy abuse lawsuits across the nation.

"Making this threat causes even more harm to people who have already suffered immeasurably and still are suffering," Clohessy said. "It rubs even more salt into already very deep and very fresh wounds."

A hearing on the diocese's motion is set for late October.

None of the five lawsuits set for trial names the San Bernardino Diocese. The lawsuits represent just a sliver of the 140 cases targeting the dioceses of San Diego or San Bernardino.

The San Diego Diocese managed Inland parishes until 1978.


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