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  Secrecy Agreements Criticized - Victims Want to Be Free to Talk about Abuse

By Richard Nangle
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
May 10, 2002

Victims of sexual abuse by priests are asking the Catholic Church to free them from out-of-court confidentiality agreements that bar them from speaking about their cases.

Yesterday, Diocese of Worcester spokesman Raymond L. Delisle and a lawyer who represents the diocese said that regardless of any such agreements, action would not be taken against alleged victims who decide to violate the terms of their confidential settlement agreements.In a press conference outside the diocesan office yesterday, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests asked that so-called "gag orders" be lifted.

They asked in a letter to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly that the bishop "abolish gag orders and refuse to use other legal tactics that keep survivors trapped in secrecy, silence and shame."

Mr. Delisle said the diocese has not taken action against Edward Gagne of Spencer, who recently went public with the fact that the diocese settled his case against two priests out of court for $300,000.

"We haven't gone after him about it," Mr. Delisle said, adding that while he does not think the diocese would take action against any alleged victim who violated such an agreement, "that's not my decision."

Mr. Delisle said Bishop Reilly "is just getting this letter."

SNAP members asked Bishop Reilly to take the letter with him to Dallas next month for the gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

J. Gavin Reardon Jr., of the Reardon and Reardon law firm that represents the Worcester diocese, said the confidential agreements, "are a good faith thing. When there's no admission of liability, there's a request that you not discuss the matter.

"Most of these cases went into litigation for several years, and people agreed to settle them on advice of counsel," Mr. Reardon said. "It's pretty standard language when you sign off on a suit against a professional person. It's been routine."

While breaking such an agreement "could be construed as breach of contract," Mr. Reardon said the diocese has never taken action against alleged clergy sexual abuse victims who have violated their agreements.

"We haven't done that and we don't intend to do that," he said.

Phil Saviano, regional coordinator of the New England Chapter of SNAP, said he knows of eight to 10 such agreements involving the Worcester diocese, and guessed that there might be dozens more involving people who have never contacted SNAP.

Mr. Saviano said such agreements "serve to protect the abuser and protect the church by keeping the secrets as secrets. They may consider that to be routine; I consider it to be another way of victimizing people that had terrible childhood experiences."

Many alleged victims who have signed such agreements have been reluctant to come forward with their stories, fearing reprisal by the church.

One such confidential agreement, signed by Bishop Reilly, involves a Northbridge man who alleges that he was sexually abused beginning at the age of 9, while an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in Uxbridge.

The agreement, obtained in February by the Telegram & Gazette, names Rev. Thomas A. Kane and three other priests. Mark D. Barry settled for $42,500.

According to Daniel J. Shea, a Houston lawyer who has represented clients accusing priests of sexual abuse, the agreement clearly suggests that while a boy, Mr. Barry was "passed around" by "a ring of priests" for sexual purposes.

Mr. Barry has been reluctant to talk about the case, citing the language in the agreement. It says in part, "Barry agrees that he will not disclose (nor permit disclosure of) the existence of this agreement or any of its terms to any person or entity."

In a 1993 interview with the Telegram & Gazette, he said he was taken by Rev. Kane to rural retreats and offered to other priests for sexual purposes.

The settlement document prohibits Mr. Barry from publicly discussing the case or taking legal action against the Rev. Thomas Teczar, the Rev. Robert Shauris and Monsignor Brendon Riordan, as well as the Worcester diocese, the four priests' current and former bishops, and numerous diocese employees and representatives.

Rev. Teczar and Rev. Shauris live in Massachusetts. Monsignor Riordon is assigned to St. Aloysius parish in Great Neck, N.Y.

 
 

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