Sunday, January 22, 2012

David Clohessy's Kansas City Deposition Unsealed: Notes on SNAP Press Statement

The SNAP website has a good media statement from last week addressing the unprecedented demand in two Missouri cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, that SNAP open its files to the scrutiny of lawyers hired by Catholic officials to defend priests accused of sex crimes with minors.  As the press release notes, a judge has just unsealed the six-hour deposition that David Clohessy of SNAP was required to make in Kansas City recently, and it will be uploaded to the SNAP site when it's available.

The media statement also notes that the demands for disclosure being made in both Kansas City and St. Louis are sweeping, and represent an entirely new tactic in the Catholic hierarchy's battle to defend priests accused of sex crimes against children.   SNAP is not involved in either of the suits in which these demands are being made, and Catholic officials are demanding access to private communications involving thousands of individuals who have never met either of the parties in the two lawsuits for which disclosure is being demanded, and who have nothing at all to do with either case.

SNAP's conclusion about what's going on (and this conclusion is echoed in the National Catholic Reporter editorial supporting SNAP to which the second link above points): 

It’s a cynical, shrewd legal maneuver to deter victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others from exposing predators, protecting kids and seeking help from SNAP. 
And it threatens the long-standing privacy protections that almost all crime victims – not just child sex victims of predatory clerics’ victims - have enjoyed for years.

And why is this happening right now?  Why are Catholic officials shifting their tactics in abuse cases to this new, unprecedented attempt to demand disclosure of private communications from SNAP's files unrelated to the cases for which the communications are being demanded?  Why are Catholic officials so intent on breaking the back of SNAP right now, and intimidating survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse who might wish to turn to SNAP or other survivor-advocacy groups for assistance?

Here's SNAP's answer to these questions: 

Step back and consider the larger context. Last year must have been extraordinarily tough for the US Catholic hierarchy. For the first time ever, two high ranking church officials face criminal charges for concealing child sex crimes – Bishop Finn in Kansas City and Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia. The hierarchy also knows that victims finding other victims and joining together for support, healing and justice will, in turn, lead to more victims coming forward and exposing even more (and more recent) clerical sex offenders and cover ups.  
So, they have got to find a tactic—even if it ultimately loses in court—for scaring and stopping victims from coming forward to SNAP and other agencies where they find the strength and courage to call law enforcement.

At one level, what Catholic officials are doing in these Missouri cases is an act of legal desperation, which indicates just how decisively SNAP and others working to address the abuse situation have succeeded in exposing the Catholic hierarchy's ongoing cover-up of abuse cases.  At another level, in retaliation, the Catholic hierarchy is now willing to employ a dangerous, cynical, and highly hurtful hardball legal that will have negative ramifications for people seeking assistance from organizations preventing abuse of children and women across the nation.  

The tactic itself, of course, further damages the moral credibility of the U.S. Catholic bishops.  But when the tactic is upheld by courts, as it has been in Missouri, much will now depend on the willingness of Catholics and others who are fed up with the behavior of the bishops and outraged at their continuing willingness to attack abuse victims to speak up.  And to push back.

And to keep the sunshine of good investigative journalism shining brightly into the dark corners of chanceries, bishops' palaces, diocesan offices, and rectories, where the many secret personnel files still held by Catholic officials continue to be stored away under lock and key.

The graphic is a snapshot of SNAP leader David Clohessy protesting outside the headquarters of the Philadelphia archdiocese in Feb. 2011; credit to Alejandro A. Alvarez of

No comments: