Church's Defender in Abuse Suits Also a Victim
Attorney Recalls Molestation, Regrets 'Becoming Part of the Problem'

By Bill Murphy
Houston Chronicle [Texas]
Downloaded November 29, 2003

The lawyer who formerly led the Diocese of Galveston-Houston's efforts to fend off clerical molestation lawsuits says that he was sexually abused by a priest himself as a teen.

Robert Scamardo, 44, said he kept his experiences hidden as diocesan general counsel for about five years but became tormented and even turned suicidal after an alleged victim told him in June 2002 that he had been molested by a priest in Central Texas. The priest, he said, was the same man who had molested him decades ago.

"It was a watershed day. There was no turning back and continuing to deny what happened," Scamardo said. "Usually, a victim thinks they were the first one or that maybe there was something they could have done to prevent it.

"I realized I had become part of the problem. Rather than doing something to heal (victims') pain, I was making it worse. I couldn't live with myself."

Scamardo, who has joined Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has come to view the church's hierarchical structure as the primary cause of the scandal and will press for changes in the church.

"My way of denying the abuse was to become the great promoter of the church so that nobody would suspect something like this had happened to me," he said.

It took Scamardo, of Afton Village just outside the West Loop, decades to come full circle.

In 1975, he lived with his family in Austin and was a member of Sacred Heart parish. At 15, he was president of the Catholic Youth Organization in the Diocese of Austin.

The first encounter, he said, came while he was attending the Texas Catholic Conference in San Antonio with the Rev. Dan Delaney, director for youth ministry for the Austin Diocese.

He was not put off when Delaney arranged for them to share a hotel room. But he was stunned to wake up and find the then-priest on top of him, masturbating him, he said. Scamardo ran into the hall.

He later confided what happened to James Reese, Sacred Heart's lay youth minister. But, he said, Reese himself molested him several times over the next few months.

In March, the Diocese of Austin informed Scamardo that the Vatican had laicized Delaney -- removed him from the clergy -- in 1987, and Reese, enrolled in a seminary and aiming for ordination, had been dismissed after Scamardo informed Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Austin Diocese in fall 2002 of Reese's behavior, Scamardo said.

Delaney, of Houston, and Reese, of Austin, could not be reached for comment. Reese told the New York Times, which first reported Scamardo's story Tuesday: "While it may be true we had a relationship, I don't think it's the way he says."

Scamardo told the Chronicle that Reese was "trying to signal between the lines that it was consensual. I was 16 and couldn't give consent. I thought (his comment) was indicative of how he fails to recognize his own crime."

A Washington, D.C., man told the Chronicle that he contacted Scamardo in June 2002 and described how he had been similarly abused by Delaney as a teen when the priest took him with him on a youth-ministry trip in Texas in 1975.

Scamardo "was respectful. He sent an e-mail that was fairly compassionate," the Washington man said. "But at some point, he hit a rock wall. I'm sure the people above him altered his view."

Scamardo says he had kept his experience to himself, remained faithful and enrolled in a seminary during college. But he left when he decided against a life of celibacy.

He got his law degree at South Texas College of Law and is now married with three children.

In 1997, Monsignor Frank Rossi, chancellor of the Galveston-Houston Diocese and a former classmate from the seminary, recruited him to become general counsel.

In handling clerical sex abuse lawsuits, he said he carried out the duties other such church lawyers were doing nationwide: quashing the suits when possible, working with diocesan officials to settle other cases for as little as possible and keeping therapy payments low. In most of the cases, the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits had expired because of the time between the alleged abuse and the complaint to the church.

Scamardo said he experienced "this immense internal dissonance. It was the only way I could do my job. As the events of 2002 (the national clerical sex abuse scandal) unfolded, it grew greater and greater."

A short time after the Washington man contacted him, Scamardo told the diocese he would no longer handle sex abuse cases. But even afterward, he said he remained tormented and became almost suicidal.

In September 2002, he told Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, head of the Galveston-Houston Diocese, and Aymond of the abuse. The Austin Diocese paid for three months of residential therapy in a facility north of Dallas.

He returned to work but resigned in April. He now runs his own firm.

In a written statement, Fiorenza said, "I have the deepest sympathy for Robert Scamardo for the suffering and pain he has endured by the sexual abuse of a priest in the Diocese of Austin."

But, he added, "I believe the New York Times distorts what we have done to be sensitive and compassionate to victims and address allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy."

The Austin Diocese did not return calls and e-mails.

Scamardo sued the Austin Diocese, seeking $437,500 but accepted $250,000. He learned what it was like to be on the other side of the table.

"They say the right words, but they minimize the experience," he said.

He still considers himself a Catholic and a spiritual person. "My faith in God is deeper than it ever was. I feel very strongly that I am on a spiritual journey. I have just lost faith in the institutional church," he says. "My ability to trust the authority of the church was seriously undermined and eroded. The scandal of 2002 was brought on by the failure of the church hierarchy to deal with the problem."

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