A Missouri judge has ordered a group that works with victims of sexual abuse by clergy to turn over decades of records to an accused Catholic priest’s lawyers who want to determine whether the group has been coaching alleged victims and plaintiffs to say they repressed memories of abuse.
Attorneys representing priests in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph sought the records from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.
Although the group strongly denied that it coaches victims, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ann Mesle said she will order the material to be turned over to the priest’s lawyers and the diocese’s lawyers.
“I believe they are entitled to have information on repressed memory,” she said April 20.
The SNAP material also would be available for use in four other cases pending against Tierney, and possibly for lawyers defending other priests in the Kansas City area and in Clinton County, Mo., Mesle said, according to the Associated Press.
Missouri law has a five-year statute of limitations on civil sexual abuse allegations unless the victim can prove that he or she had repressed memory of the abuse. If defense lawyers can prove that plaintiffs did not suppress memories of sexual abuse, judges would have to throw out a lawsuit against Fr. Michael Tierney and the Catholic diocese.
Fr. Tierney is accused of abusing a 13-year-old boy in the 1970s but has denied any wrongdoing.
The names of third parties who contacted SNAP with information about possible abuse may be removed from the documents, some of which are over 20 years old. Lawyers representing accused priests and the diocese have agreed to allow the removal.
Fr. Tierney’s lawyer Brian Madden rejected claims that the lawyers and the diocese are “trying to ‘out’ the alleged victims.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he told the Associated Press.
Rebecca Randles, the alleged abuse victim’s attorney, said her client never had contact with SNAP and has legitimately repressed memories of abuse.
Judge Mesle noted that she expects her order to be appealed.
Last January, SNAP said that it would refuse to submit to a judge's request for information about allegations against Fr. Tierney.
In a Jan, 2 deposition, SNAP director David Clohessy answered questions concerning accusations that an attorney violated a court gag order by revealing information about an abuse lawsuit to the organization.
Judge Mesle previously said that Clohessy “almost certainly” has knowledge relevant to the Fr. Tierney case.
According to the Kansas City Star, she said on April 20 that she planned to order another deposition for Clohessy.
SNAP's stated goals include abuse prevention and the healing of those wounded by abuse. Its critics, however, say focuses more on attacking the Catholic Church than assisting victims.