Editorial: Church Lawyer's Secret Offers Lessons for Us All

San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
November 30, 2003

Many years before the current pedophilia scandal, Robert Scamardo, a devout 15-year-boy from Austin, was sexually abused by a Catholic youth minister in a hotel room in San Antonio.

Scamardo tried to forget what happened and grew up to be a lawyer. For years he devoted his considerable legal talents to defending Catholic priests in Houston and Galveston who abused other children.

As Scamardo revealed last week in a story in the New York Times, in 2002 the conflict between his personal history and his professional life erupted. Scamardo described what it's like to be on both sides of what was until recently a dark secret at the heart of the Catholic Church: an epidemic of pedophilia.

As a lawyer for the church, Scamardo's job was to convince victims not to sue, to pay those who did as little as possible to settle and to insist on confidentiality clauses in all out-of-court settlements.

As a victim of abuse himself, he buried his secret of abuse including the incident in San Antonio and his effort to seek help from another youth minister in Austin, who also sexually abused him.

Finally, he resigned as a lawyer for the church and sued the Diocese of Austin.

What can we learn from Scamardo's remarkable story?

First, the claim that it's the victims of abuse who demand confidentiality as church officials insist is simply not true. Confidentiality clauses have been used to protect the church from scandal.

Second, in some cases lawyers for the churches including Scamardo used the First Amendment as a shield for the crimes of priests.

The scurrilous argument is made that charges of sexual abuse should be dismissed on grounds that government should not interfere with church affairs. When priests commit crimes, government must interfere.

Third, the church tried to control even the therapy of abuse victims. Scamardo revealed that the approach in Galveston and Houston was to keep a list of therapists the church would agree to pay for and to limit the amount of counseling to as little as possible. Such tactics contradict the church's claims of compassion for survivors of abuse.

If nothing else, the scandal has brought Scamardo's secret and the secrets of thousands of other victims of clergy abuse out into the open. The church must continue to be accountable to the victims of these crimes.

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