Lawsuit Alleges Church Pressure Canceled Rally

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register [Sioux City IA]
March 13, 2004

A Sioux City man has gone to court seeking an injunction against the Sanford Center and its executive director for allegedly bowing to pressure from the Catholic Church and canceling the rental contract for a March 20 rally at the auditorium for victims of child sexual abuse by priests.

James L. Goff of Sioux City, with his sister, Aletha Goff, sued the Sioux City Catholic Diocese in August, claiming they were sexually abused by the Rev. George McFadden. James Goff said the cancellation is retaliation.

"It's in connection to (the abuse) lawsuit," Goff said, declining to comment further.

The rally was sponsored by a fledgling chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victim's advocate organization and a vocal critic of the Catholic Church's handling of the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the denomination.

"It is a terrible shame," said David Clohessy, national SNAP executive director. "Church leaders should be helping victims get together and get support, not making it harder. It should not matter if a victim chooses to pursue his or her constitutionally legal options."

Clohessy said that the church has refused to rent halls and auditoriums to SNAP in the past, but he could not recall the organization ever being turned out after a contract was signed.

The lawsuit was filed late Friday in Woodbury County District Court. In court documents, Goff alleges that on Feb. 5, he paid $125 to rent the Sanford Center and then began promoting the "Lost Innocence Rally" that was to be held from 2 to 4 p.m. March 20.

The event was broadly advertised with flyers and over the Internet. The event was planned not only to provide support for victims, but also to set up a local chapter in the Siouxland community, according to the lawsuit.

On March 11 George Boykin, Sanford Center's executive director, reportedly told Goff that he could not use the auditorium for the rally, claiming outside pressure - specifically from the Catholic Church or its followers and Sanford Center contributors - as the reason for revoking the contract.

In seeking the injunction, Goff hopes to force the center to honor its contract.

Messages left for Jim Wharton, spokesman for the Sioux City Catholic Diocese, were not returned. Attempts to reach Boykin were unsuccessful Friday.


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