Here's something for St. Louis Catholics to think about when they pass the collection basket at church next Sunday: Lawyers for the Archdiocese and Archbishop Robert J. Carlson have launched a legal assault on the victims' advocacy organization that helped expose the clergy abuse epidemic here and around the country.
The same tactic is being employed in the Diocese of Kansas City against the organization, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and its national director, David Clohessy. In St. Louis, the target is SNAP's outreach director, Barbara Dorris. SNAP is an international organization, but Mr. Clohessy and Ms. Dorris are St. Louisans.
The effect of both efforts could be to force SNAP into expensive, drawn-out legal battles to protect the confidentiality of its communications with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers and news reporters. Mr. Clohessy said the Kansas City case already has strained SNAP's finances, which, in turn, will reduce its effectiveness. Some victims of clergy abuse may hesitate to seek help, knowing that their communications no longer are private.
In one of five abuse lawsuits filed against the Rev. Michael Tierney, a 54-year-man says that in 2008, he recovered memories of being abused as an altar boy in 1971.
Lawyers for Rev. Tierney and the diocese say SNAP "routinely holds press conferences and issues press releases in Kansas City announcing lawsuits filed against Father Tierney and the Diocese — referring to Father Tierney as a 'predator' and 'pedophile' and seeking the imprisonment of the Bishop of the Diocese."
Last June, the Diocese barred the Rev. Tierney from public church work or identifying himself as a priest.
In November, Rev. Tierney's lawyers began seeking Mr. Clohessy's deposition in the case, claiming that it might show that the accuser's lawyer had violated a gag order imposed by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ann Mesle. The lawyers sought a wide variety of SNAP's records, including emails and other correspondence going back two decades, but insisted "there is no fishing expedition here."
Mr. Clohessy fought the subpoena, claiming that it not only would have a chilling effect on SNAP's work but that it also violated Missouri's rape shield law, which gives immunity to workers who counsel rape victims. The Missouri Press Association, which represents 260 newspapers, filed a brief in support of Mr. Clohessy.
In the St. Louis case, Archbishop Carlson, the Archdiocese and defrocked priest Joseph D. Ross have been sued by a 19-year-old woman over abuse that allegedly took place between 1998 and 2000 at St. Cronan Church. Then-Father Ross had been assigned there even though he'd pleaded guilty in 1988 of the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old boy. He was removed from the priesthood in 2002.
On Monday, Ms. Dorris was handed a subpoena remarkably similar to the one Mr. Clohessy received in the Kansas City case. Mr. Ross, whose last reported address was in Little Rock, Ark., has not yet been served in the case. The subpoena is entirely on behalf of the Archbishop and the Archdiocese, though it could benefit a man the Archdiocese eventually asked the pope to remove from the priesthood.
At times, SNAP's language and tactics may have been intemperate, though in some places, those are lesser offenses than abusing children. If SNAP is crippled, fewer predatory priests will be exposed. However, the church could save a bundle on lawsuits. Perish the thought.