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  Diocese Seeks to Seal Evidence
Church Officials Try to Protect Records from Public in Lawsuit

By Jimmie E. Gates jgates@clarionledger.com
Clarion Ledger [Jackson MI]
March 12, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson wants to seal most court records from the public in the lawsuit filed by three brothers alleging a priest sexually abused them almost 30 years ago.

Although the $48 million lawsuit isn't scheduled for trial until August, deposition of Monsignor Michael Flannery, former general vicar of the diocese, began Tuesday after Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd refused to grant a stay requested by the diocese.

Attorneys for the diocese sent a letter last week to opposing attorneys stating a protective order will be sought to seal discovery evidence as confidential.

Church officials "are handling this case just like they have done other cases nationally," said Marcie Fyke, one of the attorneys for the brothers. "It shows a pattern."

Diocese attorney Roy Campbell of Jackson didn't return calls Monday and Tuesday seeking a comment. In court papers, Campbell said the diocese is preparing to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction in church matters.

Mark Belenchia of Hattiesburg, co-coordinator of the state chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he sees it as a stonewalling effort by the Catholic diocese.

"It's a tactic used over throughout the country to stonewall and hold back records," Belenchia said. "They are trying to keep info away to protect their image. Victims are being abused all over again."

In Mississippi, seven lawsuits involving about 20 plaintiffs have been filed alleging priest sexual abuse, according to SNAP.

The lawsuit in Hinds County was the first such case filed in the state.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, Thomas Morrison of Jackson and Francis Morrison Jr. of Texas. The brothers' mother, Dorothy Morrison of Madison, also is a plaintiff.

Named as defendants were the diocese; former Bishop William Houck, who came to the diocese five years after the alleged abuse is said to have ended; George Broussard, the former priest who allegedly committed the sexual abuse while active in the priesthood; Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who was vicar general in Jackson at the time of the alleged abuse; and others.

Nationally, the Catholic church is engulfed in controversy over church leaders transferring priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes instead of removing them. The local lawsuit accuses the diocese of following the same course.

The Morrisons moved to Jackson in 1969 from Boston and began attending St. Peter's Cathedral in Jackson, the lawsuit says. The alleged abuse occurred between 1969 and 1974. "Father Broussard soon became a fixture around the Morrison household," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Broussard dined at the Morrisons' home and often tucked in the boys, then ages 5, 7 and 10, at bedtime. He often took the children to the family's lake house by himself, the lawsuit says. It was with the trust gained with Dr. Francis Morrison, the boys' father, and their mother that Broussard was able to sexually abuse the boys, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, which is only one side of the legal argument, says Broussard abused the children in their home, the family's lake house, the church and church rectory.

Broussard was eventually moved to a parish in Waveland. He left the priesthood a year later, the lawsuit says. Broussard's last known address is in Houma, La.

In a statement released in June, the diocese said, in its investigation into the allegations, it was informed by Broussard that he received psychiatric help during the period in question at the direction of then Bishop Joseph Brunini, who is now dead, and continued that treatment while in Waveland. "He served the Waveland parish for one year and left the active ministry in August 1975. He has not served as a priest since that time," according to the statement

The diocese adopted a policy on Jan. 1, 1994, that requires investigating current and past allegations of sexual misconduct by priests. "Sexual misconduct by church personnel violates human dignity and the mission of the church," the diocese said in the statement released in June.
 
 
 

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