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2002 | Worcester Diocese Victimizing the Victims

In Print Media by PhilSaviano

BOSTON GLOBE | September 23, 2002
By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist

When Cindy Desrosiers learned that the Worcester Diocese was doing battle with SNAP, a support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, she wasn’t surprised.

Desrosiers has already fought the diocese and the Rev. Robert E. Kelley, whose alleged misconduct prompted the current conflict. In her experience, sensitivity wasn’t a high priority for either the diocese or its lawyers.

Desrosiers, now 38, sued Kelley and the diocese in 1994, charging that she had been molested by the priest for a year-and-a-half, beginning when she was 4. She won, but not without what she considers unnecessary pain and anguish.

“I’m not a Catholic anymore,” she said yesterday. “I think the church is a very corrupt place, and the Worcester Diocese is one of the worst.” Desrosiers is the Maine coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, better known by its acronym, SNAP.

The Worcester Diocese is currently being sued by five women who allege that the church did not protect them from abuse at the hands of Kelley. In response, attorneys for the diocese have subpoenaed not only the information about those five women, but also the names of anyone who has alleged abuse at the hands of any priest in the diocese.

The sweep of the subpoena shocked many observers of the church abuse scandal. In their view, there is only one logical reason why the diocese would demand information about people who have nothing to do with the suit involving Kelley, and that is to destroy the faith with victims that allows SNAP to function.

For years, the church stonewalled questions about its settlements of abuse cases on the grounds that it had to protect the confidentiality of victims. Then, in the wake of the revelations this year about sexual abuse, church fathers proclaimed that compassion towards victims would be their highest priority.

Now comes the Worcester Diocese, going to court for the explicit purpose of violating the confidentiality of victims. So much for compassion.

It would stand to reason that, in the course of defending a lawsuit, the diocese might seek information about its accusers. It would be distasteful, but defensible.

This subpoena is a different matter. First of all, Kelly is a convicted rapist who has admitted to molesting more than 50 girls over the past two decades. It seems highly unlikely that anything his alleged victims said to SNAP would exonerate the priest. The diocese has a right to defend itself, sure. But this is a man who has admitted his guilt dozens of times over.

The really galling notion is that the diocese has a right to the names of those who allege abuse by priests other than Kelley. This is nothing but a transparent attempt to intimidate victims seeking support from SNAP.

Phil Saviano, director of the New England chapter, describes a typical encounter with a first-time caller this way: “The first thing they say, through the tears, is, ‘This is between you and me, right?’ ” In order to function, he has to be able to answer that question yes.

At the heart of clergy sexual abuse is the issue of silence. Abusers are able to operate largely by winning the silence of their victims. The function of SNAP is to help some of those victims regain their voices, break that silence. They do this by allowing them to speak confidentially, until some of them are ready to pursue justice publicly. The trust that makes that delicate process possible is what this subpoena would undermine.

It’s hard to believe that the diocese would choose such a self-destructive path. “Are they willing to lose even more at Sunday Mass, in the coffers, and in terms of public credibility?” asks attorney Wendy Murphy, who will represent SNAP in an effort to quash the subpoena.

It’s a good question. But for the Worcester Diocese the answer apparently is yes.