Clergy sex abuse victim’s confidentiality breached
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
October 21, 2017
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The story of plaintiff Jane L.S. Doe’s clergy sex abuse lawsuit in Coconino County Superior Court should be a cautionary tale for all sex abuse victims.
Particularly for any abuse survivor who is given promises that his or her identity and personal information will be kept confidential by attorneys and the court system.
In the case of Jane L.S. Doe v. the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael Indian School, Doe’s real name, identifying information and confidential details about her abuse have been published all throughout the public court file for months courtesy of the attorneys for the Sisters and Catholic school and her own attorney is now scrambling to seal all those documents.
The breach of Doe’s identity and confidential information came to light recently after a Gallup Independent reporter drove to Flagstaff to inspect the court file. Doe’s exposed information includes her name, date of birth, current address, previous employer, tribal census number, her parents’ names, her mother’s occupation and census number, and current and former spouses' names.
The file also includes pages from Doe’s St. Michael's school records, including transcripts of her high school grades, as well as a copy of Doe’s confidential proof of claim that was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court during the Diocese of Gallup's Chapter 11 reorganization. Although personal names were redacted on the claim form, which details her sexual abuse, the same names can be found elsewhere in the file.
Information laid bare
Doe is a middle-aged Navajo woman who was sent as a child to St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels, Arizona, where she was sexually molested by the late Brother Mark Schornack, OFM, a Franciscan brother who drove a school bus and threw roller skating parties for St. Michael students. Doe is not an “alleged victim” and Schornack was not an “alleged abuser.” As an abuse claimant in the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case, her claim was deemed credible by court officials. Schornack has been publicly identified by the Gallup Diocese as a credibly accused child sex abuser.
Under the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Doe’s identity and information surrounding her abuse claim were kept confidential. However, in Doe’s civil lawsuit filed in Coconino County Superior Court, her personal information was laid bare in court filings by Peter C. Kelly II and Jesse M. Showalter, attorneys with Holloway Odegard & Kelly of Phoenix who represent the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and St. Michael Indian School.
Doe filed the civil lawsuit because the Sisters and St. Michael’s declined to participate in the Diocese of Gallup's Chapter 11 reorganization. By declining to contribute funds toward a settlement with clergy sex abuse survivors, the Sisters and St. Michael’s did not receive legal protection from further clergy sex abuse lawsuits.
Ironically, while Kelly and Showalter have been filing court documents that publicly expose Doe’s identity and personal information, they have also spent months sparring with Doe’s attorney, Robert E. Pastor, about access to more confidential information, such as Doe’s medical history, academic records and the settlement amount she received in the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case.
On Aug. 24, Judge Dan Slayton ruled in their favor and ordered Doe and Pastor to provide all the requested information.
Kelly and Showalter did not respond to emails Tuesday seeking comment. An automatic email response from the Holloway Odegard & Kelly law firm stated Showalter was no longer employed by the firm.
Pastor, of Phoenix, was also contacted Tuesday. In a phone call Wednesday, Pastor said the breach of his client’s identity and personal information came as news to him. According to Pastor, unlike Maricopa County Superior Court, Coconino County does not have an electronic viewing system that allows him to electronically view court documents filed in the case. Coconino’s system, he said, only shows the court's minute entries.
Pastor said he had assumed all the documents filed with the court by Kelly and Showalter were properly redacted to protect his client’s privacy. Pastor, who claimed one of the attorneys had promised in an email to protect the plaintiff’s identity, said he would provide a copy of that email to the Independent.
“It is unfortunate that those who promise to care for the weak and injured hire unscrupulous lawyers to do their dirty work,” Pastor said in an email statement Friday. “The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament should be ashamed of themselves for allowing their lawyers to cause further injury to survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It is clear that the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, like the bishops and priest who control the Catholic Church, are more concerned with protecting their own reputation than healing the wounds caused by clergy sexual abuse.”
Pastor added he has asked the court to seal all of the necessary documents.
By press time Friday, Pastor had not provided a copy of the email with the privacy promise nor had he provided a copy of his request to the court to seal the documents.
Dorothea “Dot” Teso, president of St. Michael Indian School, said she couldn't comment about the attorneys’ actions when contacted Friday.
“I don't know anything about it,” Teso said of the lawsuit. “I haven't heard anything about it.”
Teso, who was informed that her signature was on a “waiver of service” document in the court file, said the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are making all the legal decisions regarding the lawsuit. Because the sexual abuse happened before St. Michael Indian School was incorporated, she added, everything goes to the Sisters.
Teso was asked about the two pages of Doe’s St. Michael Indian School record that includes information about Doe and her parents and Doe’s high school transcript grades.
“That’s not something we would release,” Teso said, explaining such school records would only be released to the student or the student’s family. Teso did say, however, that attorneys for the Sisters and the school did visit St. Michael’s and looked through school yearbooks.
Teso referred questions to Sister Sandra Schmidt, SBS at the Sisters’ motherhouse in Pennsylvania. Schmidt serves on St. Michael’s Board of Directors. Several phone calls to Schmidt and the religious order’s media representative were met with only answering machines.
Joelle Casteix, the western regional director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was also asked to comment.
“The only reason that many victims feel safe coming forward is because they have been given the assurance of church officials that their identities will be kept confidential,” Casteix said in an email Thursday. “Victims of child sexual abuse carry years of shame and self loathing. On top of that, others fear that if their names become public, it will affect their jobs, families, or standing in the community.”
Casteix described the attorneys’ actions as a “callous disregard for their legal promises and the pain and suffering of victims.”
Editor’s Note: Tuesday’s Independent will feature startling information about clergy sex abuser Brother Mark Schornack contained in the Flagstaff court file.