Sex Abuse Claims, Memory Questioned

By Cedric Moon
KGMB Channel 9
December 22, 2005

Honolulu's Catholic Diocese is facing another legal battle - this time from a woman who says she was sexually abused by her priest more than 40 years ago.

Lavonne Cobb is now in her 50s. She says she was attacked by her priest, Henry Sabog, when she was 12 years old at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in 1964.

In her complaint, Cobb says Sabog reached under her dress and grabbed her thighs. Then he moved his hands up and put them in her panties before she was able to run away.

Lavonne Cobb says she forgot all about the attack, but recent headlines about church sex abuse cases brought it all back more than 40 years later.

Because it happened so long ago, she can't press criminal charges against Sabog, but she is now suing him and the church.

Attorney Merit Bennett says he's handled hundreds of lawsuits against clergy, including some, like Cobb's, that happened long ago. He says horrible memories can be repressed and suddenly resurface years later.

"If she recovered the memory while reading a newspaper concerning sexual abuse, to me, that is more credible, if you will, than if the memory that was recovered in a therapist's office," he said.

But forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Marvit, believes all repressed memory is coerced. He says a third of all accusations he's been consulted on were proven to be untrue.

"Trying these things in a courtroom, in an adversarial context, doesn't necessarily always bring out factually correct results," said Marvit.

Meanwhile, the diocese may do its own investigation.

"If the case is credible, the person who has been accused is removed from public ministry until everything can be sorted out. Once a case goes into litigation, however, we let that process work itself out," said Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Diocese.

KGMB9 News spoke with the now-retired priest Henry Sabog on Monday night. He says he doesn't really remember Lavonne Cobb and denies the incident ever happened.


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