Abuse-Suit Plaintiffs Say Church Digging in:
Indianapolis Official Disputes Allegation

By Harold J. Adams
The Courier-Journal [Indiana]
June 24, 2004

Attorneys for 23 people who claim in a lawsuit that they were sexually abused by a Jeffersonville, Ind., priest say the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis is refusing to answer questions and provide documents to which they are entitled.

Among other things, the plaintiffs' attorneys contend in a motion, the archdiocese has admitted that documents used to compile a recent report on abusive priests have been destroyed.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese says the church is being as cooperative as possible but objects to some of the requests made by the plaintiffs as overly broad. Its attorneys say the allegation that evidence was destroyed is false and is based on a misunderstanding.

The suit, filed in September 2002 in Clark Circuit Court, says the late Father Albert Deery abused the plaintiffs and many others while he was assigned to St. Augustine Parish and they were students at the parish school in the 1950s and 1960s.

It accuses the archdiocese of covering up Deery's actions and failing to warn students and parents, even as the abuse continued. Deery died in 1972.

The plaintiffs say they have been unable to find out whether Deery was among the 20 priests against whom the archdiocese, in a year-long investigation, found sufficient evidence to support allegations of abuse.

However, Susan Borcherts, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, confirmed in an interview with The Courier-Journal last week that Deery was, in fact, among the 20.

That confirmation could be at odds with answers filed in court papers by the archdiocese last summer.

The church was asked, in separate questions for each of 11 plaintiffs who were part of the case at the time, to admit that "Father Albert Deery did commit child molesting" with the named plaintiff. In each case the one-word response was, "Denied."

Borcherts was asked last week about the apparent contradiction.

"There are two separate issues," she said. "The archbishop's report was the archbishop's report. This is a lawsuit. It's two separate issues."

A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.

The Clark County suit is similar to litigation filed in courts across the country, including Louisville, where the Archdiocese of Louisville last year reached a $25.7 million settlement with 243 plaintiffs.

THE RESISTANCE by the Indianapolis archdiocese mirrors a pattern followed by church authorities in responding to suits across the country, according to plaintiffs' attorneys and Catholic activist groups that have formed in response to the sex scandal.

Father Thomas Doyle of Goldsboro, N.C., an Air Force chaplain who has consulted or testified for the plaintiffs in hundreds of cases in the United States and Europe, said dioceses are digging in more and more.

"Failing to turn over documents, purging documentation from files. ... You name it, they've done it," he said.

In one instance, the Illinois diocese headed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was found in contempt of court in February for failing to release documents related to a priest accused of sexual abuse. A St. Clair County (Ill.) Circuit Court judge ordered Gregory's Belleville diocese to pay a $2,000 fine, reimburse the plaintiff for legal fees and release the files.

Clark Superior Court Judge Steven Fleece is one of the plaintiffs who say they were molested by Deery. Fleece said in an interview that the Indianapolis archdiocese has "indeed dug in their heels" and has not been forthcoming in responding to the litigation.

"When this began I was wondering whether the archdiocese would respond as a church or if they would respond as a corporation. And their response so far has been worthy of General Motors or Halliburton ... (and) unworthy of a church," he said.

LAST MONTH the plaintiffs filed a motion in which they accused the Indianapolis archdiocese of "playing fast and loose" with their responses in the discovery phase of the case.

During the pretrial discovery period, each side is required to provide relevant information requested by the other. A hearing on the matter is scheduled later this month, and the plaintiffs want Clark Circuit Judge Daniel Donahue to order the archdiocese to hand over documents and answer questions to which it has refused to respond.

They point to a February letter sent by Archbishop Daniel Buechlein to area Catholics in which he summarized the findings of an archdiocesan review board that spent a year studying all sexual abuse allegations reported to the archdiocese from 1950 through 2002.

The report concluded that there was "sufficient information to support allegations against 20 priests," according to the archbishop's letter.

The study was done as part of the national study of clergy abuse commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of the national scandal over such abuse.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say they were rebuffed when they asked for a copy of the archdiocese's report.

"They won't tell me where they got that number," attorney Karl Truman said in an interview. "They won't tell me who those people are. They will not give me any information."

In a motion to "compel discovery," Truman wrote: "The defendant denies that any such report even exists. When confronted with this inconsistency, defense counsel stated that any documents used to prepare the report were destroyed. ... It is becoming increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to know which answers are accurate."

But John S. Mercer, an attorney for the archdiocese, said in a court filing that Truman misunderstood something he was told in a telephone conversation.

MERCER SAID he told Truman that it was his understanding the surveys used to compile the report were destroyed by "the study's principal investigator" at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, not the archdiocese.

Karen Terry, the principal investigator, said she did destroy the original surveys turned in by each diocese when the study was completed. "At that point we had to destroy them as per our commitment to the church," she said. "But every single thing on those surveys is in the database" created as part of the study.

Borcherts, the archdiocese spokeswoman, said the church was instructed by the researchers not to keep copies of the completed survey. But "all source records used to answer the survey are still here," she said.

She also said the church is cooperating with the discovery process. Asked specifically about the request for the review committee's report, Borcherts said, "We'll be answering that question at a later date in court."

The church has already given the plaintiffs a great deal of what the plaintiffs have asked for, Borcherts said.

"However, as filed with the court, our position is that some of their discovery requests are irrelevant, overly broad, unduly burdensome ... and not sufficiently defined," she said.

THE ARCHDIOCESE has filed a motion asking Donahue to grant an order protecting it from having to satisfy some of the requests.

"Some of them would require us to expend an unreasonable amount of resources," Borcherts said.

Donahue has scheduled a hearing on both motions for June 29.

Borcherts said the archdiocese continues to fight the legal battle because "no viable legal claim exists. The statute of limitations expired long ago."

The archdiocese says claims can be brought only within two years of the alleged abuse or within two years after a victim's 18th birthday.

Truman said the archdiocese "knew there was a problem with abuse by priests ... and actually covered it up." He said that kept the statute of limitations from running until his clients became aware of the alleged cover-up.

The archdiocese contends that it never heard an allegation against Deery until a woman complained to the chancellor's office on April 15, 2002.

The same woman, known in court files by the pseudonym Jane Doe, became the lead plaintiff when the Clark County suit was filed five months later.


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