|Priest’s Files Sought in Abuse Case
By Joe Gyan Jr.
August 18, 2009
Former altar boys allegedly molested decades ago by a one-time priest in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge moved closer Monday to obtaining all or some of his personnel records and those of other diocesan priests accused of sexual abuse.
Houston attorney Felecia Peavy represents 19 men who claim to have been molested as altar boys by Christopher Springer.
Peavy emerged from a closed-door hearing in state District Judge Wilson Fields’ courtroom and said Fields gave the diocese until Sept. 17 to produce the Springer documents to the judge.
“After seven years of litigating, it’s been a long time coming to actually be able to review the documents,’’ Peavy said.
Fields’ directive came 10 days after the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge issued an order in the case and five months after Springer consented to the release of his personnel file.
In an Aug. 14 letter to Fields, however, Cyrus Greco, an attorney for Springer, informed the judge that Springer’s March 13 authorization to release his personnel records was “obtained under duress’’ by the plaintiffs in the alleged sex abuse cases.
“You should know that each of those purported releases are hereby expressed REVOKED,’’ Greco wrote in his letter to the judge.
Peavy, who received the letter via fax from Greco, gave the letter to John Doe XVII, one of the plaintiffs she represents in the Springer cases.
John Doe XVII, who attended Monday’s hearing, gave the letter to The Advocate after court.
Also after court, John Doe XIII chose to identify himself as Charles Bishop.
“I thought he (Springer) would admit his guilt. After withdrawing that (authorization to release his records), it’s like a stab in the back,’’ said Bishop, who lives in Florida.
Bishop said he has been undergoing diocesan-paid therapy for three years. He encouraged other survivors of sex abuse to get help.
As Greco left the hearing, he declined comment on the case and would not confirm his representation of Springer.
Diocese attorney Charles Cusimano could not be reached after the hearing.
In its Aug. 7 order, the appellate court noted that Springer consented March 13 to the production of “any and all documents and records, of every kind and description, contained in any and all files generated and maintained as a result of (his) employment.’’
The appellate court ordered Fields to inspect the document “and, if the court concludes that it is genuine, to grant the motion to produce Springer’s complete personnel file.’’
If Fields finds the March 13 document is not genuine, the appellate court ordered him to inspect Springer’s personnel file to determine whether any documents in it are privileged “and to grant the motion with respect to all non-privileged information in that file.’’
The court said all identifying information of victims in that file is to be blacked out to protect their privacy rights.
As for the diocese’s investigative files and personnel files of other priests, clerics and employees named in sex abuse allegations from 1973 to the present, the appellate court ordered Fields to inspect the files “to determine relevancy and whether any documents are privileged and to grant the motion with respect to production of all relevant, non-privileged information in those files.’’
Once again, the court said all identifying information of victims in those files is to be blacked out to shield their privacy.
The lawsuits filed by the former altar boys represented by Peavy are sealed.
The diocese has settled lawsuits filed by nine of the men she represents, Peavy said.
The other cases are pending.
The lawsuits filed by all of the former altar boys represented by Peavy allege the abuse by Springer occurred between 1968 and 1980.
In the past, former altar boys have claimed they were abused by Springer while he was working as a Redemptorist or diocesan priest at St. Gerard Majella in Baton Rouge, St. Pius X in Baton Rouge, St. Mary’s of False River, Pointe Coupee Church, Our Lady of the Assumption in Clinton, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell and St. Alphonsus Parish in New Orleans.
The former altar boys contend the Diocese of Baton Rouge knew or should have been aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.
Instead, the diocese moved Springer to other churches, where the abuse continued, the lawsuits allege.
Church officials have said the diocese was unaware of the accusations against Springer until 1985 and quickly dismissed him from the diocese after learning of the allegations.
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