[with video tribute]
Patricia Ruth McLelland, known to her family as “Pat” and to her friends as “Trish,” died unexpectedly on January 1, 2015, after a brief illness. She is survived by her brother, Eugene Hall, by his wife Dianne, and by their children and grandchildren. She will be greatly missed by her colleagues at the Tahira Khan Merritt Law Firm in Dallas, and by her colleagues at BishopAccountability.org in Waltham, Massachusetts. Trish is also mourned by Sylvia Demarest, whom she supported during the landmark Kos trial in 1997, and by Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe, and the other colleagues and experts involved in that and many other matters.
In her legal assistant work, Trish was known equally for her attention to detail and her attention to the clients represented by Demarest and Merritt. Survivors appreciated her warmth and accessibility, her passion for their cause, and the fierce determination she brought to supporting them, researching their cases, and assisting their advocates.
Beyond the circles that knew her work and understood its significance, Trish’s death is a blow to millions of people who have benefited from her research and expertise, without knowing that a great social movement depended on Trish’s work.
During the last 21 years, Trish was the primary researcher in an effort to name and document every Catholic priest, brother, and nun accused of abusing a child. For the last 10 years, she also coordinated the project. This effort was conceived, organized, and funded by attorney Sylvia Demarest, beginning in 1994, initially to support the Kos litigation, but then for the broader humanitarian purpose of providing an information resource to combat the scourge of child molestation by clergy, and to offer a means of calling the Catholic church to account.
The project started with the names identified by Jason Berry in his groundbreaking Lead Us Not into Temptation, and was greatly aided by the list and newsletter published by the Linkup, a survivors’ organization. In addition to Demarest and McLelland, students from the Southern Methodist University Law School participated in the work.
In 2004, Demarest donated her database and voluminous supporting documentation to BishopAccountability.org, which has employed Trish since 2005 to maintain and enhance the list that she and Demarest had begun. In the initial stages, the work of Demarest’s team was merged with the list developed by the volunteers organized by Paul Baier at Survivors First. Astonishingly, Trish cared for the BishopAccountability.org database on evenings and weekends, after her full-time job in Tahira Khan Merritt’s practice.
Holder of a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Texas, Trish vastly improved and expanded her database in 2005-2014, adding more than 1,100 names and tens of thousands of sources, and enhancing the other entries. Today, BishopAccountability.org’s Database of Publicly Accused Priests in the U.S. lists more than 4,000 bishops, priests, nuns, brothers, deacons, and seminarians. Along with Abuse Tracker, it is the feature used most frequently by BishopAccountability.org’s 1.5 million unique visitors annually.
As attorney Demarest anticipated, the database that Trish built has saved children from being abused. It has also served as a unique and comprehensive resource for law enforcement officials and investigative reporters, and has enabled survivors to come forward and obtain justice. Many developments of the last 20 years would never have occurred, were it not for the information gathered by Trish McLelland. The database has functioned as a force multiplier for any survivor, researcher, advocate, scholar, or activist involved in the child protection cause. Since 2002, dioceses and some religious orders have begun to issue lists of their own, and there is now serious talk of the church’s creating a global list. None of this could have happened without Trish McLelland’s determination and attention to the smallest detail.
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