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  Anonymity Is an Issue in Suits against Church

By Kathryn Rogers
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 11, 1994

"James Doe," "R. Doe" and "T. Roe" were children at the time they allege Roman Catholic priests molested them decades ago, and they believe they're entitled to anonymity as they press their charges now.

But the attorney defending the Archdiocese of St. Louis in lawsuits they filed anonymously last week says their names should be made public to ensure justice is done. Otherwise, says lawyer Bernard Huger, others who may have important information about the cases won't know to come forward.

"R. Doe" and "T. Roe" accuse James Beine, who was removed from the priesthood in 1977. For the past three years, he has been a counselor at Bryan Hill Elementary School, 2128 Gano Avenue, St. Louis Public School officials said.

Chester Edmonds, a spokesman for the district, said the district had had no problems with Beine, but because of the lawsuit gave him an assignment Friday away from children.

Friday was the last day of the school year. "We're not saying anything about guilt or innocence," Edmonds said. "We just moved him as soon as we heard about the lawsuits." Edmonds noted that the suits are merely "accusations."

Beine, 52, also runs a youth program called St. John Center out of his home in Incline Village in Warren County. He claims to be an auxiliary bishop of a denomination called the Old Catholic Church in North America.

The suit against Beine alleges that the abuse began while he was serving at St. Peter Church in St. Charles in the late '60s.

"James Doe" accuses the Rev. James L. Gummersbach of abusing him when Gummersbach served at Annunziata parish in Ladue in the late 1960s.

Because of the allegations against Gummersbach, 65, the archdiocese has placed him on administrative leave from his job as chaplain at Deaconess Hospital. Neither he nor Beine could be reached to comment.

Huger and Douglas Forsyth, attorney for all three plaintiffs, expect to argue the issue of the plaintiffs' anonymity in court as the suits proceed.

Forsyth got special permission from circuit judges this week to file the lawsuits under fictitious names, he says. The St. Louis circuit clerk's office required him to get the judges' permission, he said. Forsyth contends that no court rules bar the fictitious names.

In both the Beine and Gummersbach cases, the plaintiffs say they repressed memory of the abuse. Then, within the past year, they were diagnosed separately by different psychologists as having post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the abuse.

Forsyth says that none of the plaintiffs knew about the others' existence until they called him for legal help. Both suits argue that the priests' spiritual authority intimidated the boys into silence.

Huger plans to fight the "recovered memory" claims. For him to do so adequately, he says, the plaintiffs' names must be made public. "If, for instance, they had disclosed to someone else that they had been abused and it wasn't a hidden memory, then the person to whom they said this could come forward and say, Mr. X told me about this,' " Huger said.

"None of that testimony would be available" if the plaintiffs remain anonymous, he said.

If the plaintiffs had been aware all along that abuse had damaged them, the statute of limitations would bar them from filing a lawsuit at this point.

But Forsyth says forcing the disclosure of abuse victims' names would deter suits. "People feel they are going to be humiliated and ridiculed," he said.

"It's a way to bully and intimidate victims."

Leland Ware, a professor of law at St. Louis University who teaches civil procedure, says plaintiffs in civil cases commonly use fictitious names when the nature of litigation "would cause embarrassment or humiliation," as in abortion or sexual-abuse cases.

 
 

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