Ohio Man Sues Camden Diocese over Alleged Abuse
By David O'Reilly
January 27, 2012
An Ohio man who alleges he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the early 1970s but repressed all memory of the assaults is using the "late discovery" feature of New Jersey's child endangerment law to sue the Diocese of Camden.
Mark Bryson, 50, who lives near Cincinnati, alleges that the Rev. Joseph E. Shannon assaulted him multiple times when he was a first grader at St. Anthony of Padua School in Camden.
In a suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Bryson says he left the school after first grade and "repressed all memory" of the assaults until last February, when he learned that a registered sex offender had moved into his neighborhood.
While walking near his home after hearing the news, he spied a man who "reminded me of a young priest," he said in a statement released by his lawyer. "The memories of what Father Shannon did to me started to come back, and things got very bad for me."
New Jersey law gives sexually abused minors only until age 20 to file suit against their accusers, unless they can demonstrate they repressed memory of their abuse, according Bryson's lawyer, Jessica Arbour of Miami.
"Repression is not the same as suppression," Arbour said in an interview Friday. "Suppression is just, 'I don't want to think about it.' With repression, the memory is gone." Her client suffered "traumatic amnesia," she said.
Shannon, 75, was accused in the 1990s of sex abuse by at least four other males. Although he denied the allegations, the diocese in 2002 paid settlements to several of his accusers as part of an $880,000 lawsuit involving 15 priests.
Peter Feuerherd, spokesman for the Camden Diocese, said Friday the diocese had not received a copy of the complaint and could not immediately comment on it.
He acknowledged that Shannon "has had similar accusations against him in the past." He said the priest was removed from ministry in 1990 and "lives under close supervision in a treatment facility outside the diocese."
Bryson's suit charges the diocese with having "fraudulently concealed" its knowledge of Shannon's alleged predation of young boys, and knowingly exposed other victims to the priest.
Like repressed memory, fraudulent concealment can also "toll," or pause, the statute of limitations in civil sex abuse cases in New Jersey. Pennsylvania law has no provision for using repressed memory to pause the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases.
In New Jersey, a judge must first conduct a hearing to determine if there is merit to a repressed-memory claim before it can proceed to trial.
"Until recently, I had almost no memory of my entire childhood," Bryson wrote in his statement. "It felt like I was born a teenager." He said he grew up "terrified of adults, especially authority figures," fared poorly in school and at work, and suffers from depression and thoughts of suicide.
A group of advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse picketed outside the diocesan offices in Camden on Friday afternoon, and called on Bishop Joseph Galante to reveal the names of all current and former priests who have been accused of misconduct involving children.
Mark Crawford, president of the New Jersey chapter of Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), also urged the legislatures of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to pass laws making it easier for adults who were molested as children to sue their abusers.