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  Man Sues Diocese, Claims Sex Abuse
Travis Resident Says He Had Buried Memories since He Was a Teen

By Eileen E. Flynn
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)
December 24, 2003

A Travis County man who says an episode of "Oprah" helped him recall a repressed memory of sexual abuse is suing the Catholic Diocese of Austin.

Mark Hill, 46, is seeking unspecified damages in a lawsuit filed Monday in District Court in Travis County in which he says the Rev. James O'Connor, 61, molested him from 1969 to 1971.

At the time, O'Connor served at the parish Hill's family attended, St. Mary's Church of the Assumption in Waco, which is part of the 25-county Austin diocese.

O'Connor now works in Austin as defender of the bond, a church tribunal position that oversees marriage annulments. He could not be reached Tuesday.

Bishop Gregory Aymond declined to comment, saying that he has not seen the lawsuit and that the matter is under investigation. The diocese would not release information about O'Connor's previous assign- ments.

According to the lawsuit, the abuse involved oral sex and fondling and took place at the parish and in Hill's home.

Hill's lawyer, Douglas Sutter of Houston, said his client buried the memory until March 2002, when he watched a man talking about childhood sexual abuse on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. Hill also received psychiatric counseling, which Sutter said confirmed the repressed memories.

Claims of recovered memories have been a source of dispute among psychiatrists. Sutter said that in cases of repressed memory, the statute of limitations allows a victim two to three years to file a civil suit after recalling the incident.

The diocese recently reached a $250,000 settlement with Houston lawyer Robert Scamardo, who said former Austin priest Dan Delaney molested him in the 1970s.

Aymond acknowledged that church leaders probably knew of Delaney's abuse at the time. Aymond encouraged other victims to come forward and said he was covering the counseling costs of people who said Delaney molested them.

Sutter said Hill did not approach the diocese with his claims before filing the lawsuit, which does not accuse the church of being aware of abuse committed by O'Connor. Citing his confidentiality policy, Aymond would not use names, but in a statement, he said he received a letter last week "from an individual's lawyer regarding an allegation."

"We have been making an attempt to reach the lawyer and through him the alleged victim," he said.

 
 

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