Camden Diocese Seeks to Test Claims of Abuse
By Jim Walsh
February 16, 2013
The Diocese of Camden wants to question an Ohio man for two days over his claim he was sexually abused by a priest, then repressed the memory for more than 40 years.
A lawyer for the diocese contends extensive questioning at a pretrial deposition, including asking the man to describe his abuse in detail, is necessary to protect the church’s rights.
But an attorney for the priest’s accuser, Mark Bryson, asserts the request is “excessive and harassing.” He wants a federal judge to limit questioning of his client to seven hours, or a single day. And a group opposed to the Catholic Church’s handling of the sex-abuse issue contends the legal tactic is intended to send “an intimidating signal.”
“I think the church officials and lawyers think that, by making this as tough as they can, they’ll discourage others from coming forward,” said David Clohessy, a spokesman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Diocesan Spokesman Peter Feuerherd sees it differently.
“This is a 45-year-old claim that should not be rushed,” he said Friday.
Bryson sued the diocese in January 2012, alleging he was repeatedly assaulted by the Rev. Joseph Shannon at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden. Bryson, born in 1961, contends the abuse occurred when he was a first-grader at the parish school.
An attorney for the diocese, William DeSantis of Cherry Hill, has argued the statute of limitations for any offense expired when Bryson was 20, or two years after he became an adult.
But the suit asserts Bryson repressed his memory of the assaults until February 2010, when he saw someone who reminded him of Shannon. If a judge upholds that claim, the statute of limitations would not block the suit, said Adam Horowitz, a Boca Raton, Fla., attorney for Bryson.
In court papers filed Thursday, DeSantis said extensive questioning would help determine the validity of Bryson’s claims. He said details of the alleged abuse, “such as the frequency, nature of the sexual acts, violent or nonviolent nature, conversations between victim and abuse, are relevant for the court to determine whether (Bryson) did in fact repress all memories of the abuse.”
Among other points, DeSantis also said Bryson should face questions about other events in his life “which might have served, or should have served, to trigger these memories.”
Horowitz, who specializes in cases of child sex abuse, contends two-day depositions are “exceedingly rare.”
“Out of 200 depositions of such victims, I can think of one or two requests like that,” he said in an interview.
Shannon is not a defendant in Bryson’s lawsuit, but he has been previously accused of molestation. One suit, filed in the 1980s by Stephen Palo of Gloucester Township, was settled with a payment from the diocese, but no admission of wrongdoing, Palo said in a 1994 interview.
Shannon, who was put on indefinite medical leave in 1990, has worked most recently with the federal Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia International Airport.
Bryson’s suit was one of two filed against the diocese last year. Lisa Syvertson Shanahan of North Carolina sued in May, alleging church officials failed to protect her from an abusive priest at a Hammonton parish during her childhood in the early 1980s.
Her suit says Shanahan did not realize she had grounds to sue until October 2009, when she learned of recent lawsuits by other alleged victims of the priest.