Fairbanks Diocese Blasted for Withholding Documents
Rev. Poole: Group Demands Leaders "Stop Stonewalling" Matter
By Rachel D'Oro
The Associated Press, carried in Anchorage Daily News [Fairbanks AK]
February 16, 2006
A national organization for survivors of priest sexual abuse blasted Fairbanks Catholic leaders on Wednesday, saying officials are trying to keep records of an accused priest secret as the case heads for trial at the end of the month.
The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a harshly worded letter to Bishop Donald Kettler to "stop stonewalling" and allow the release of all documents pertaining to the Rev. James E. Poole. The 82-year-old retired Jesuit priest has been accused of abusing five women during a four-decade career in rural Alaska.
Poole, who founded KNOM radio in Nome, was recently severed from the civil lawsuit -- filed by a woman alleging she was abused in the mid-1970s -- because the statute of limitations has expired. But the Fairbanks diocese and Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, remain listed as defendants in the trial scheduled for Feb. 27 in Nome.
"Keeping these documents hidden is telling survivors, parishioners and the public that you care more about your precious secrets than you care about your precious children," SNAP officials wrote in the letter e-mailed and faxed to Kettler Wednesday.
The letter referred to the church's alleged reluctance to share records in time for the lawsuit, which identifies the plaintiff as Jane Doe 2. Plaintiff attorneys say the diocese submitted several thousand documents long after the disclosure deadline and the Jesuits continue to withhold computer files.
An attorney for the diocese has said many records are minutiae with no bearing on the complaint.
David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, said it's up to the public to decide whether the documents are relevant. Releasing all records might expose high-ranking enablers or additional predators who might still be active in the church, he said.
"These documents are more than just history," he said. "They might prevent abuse right now. We say this all the time: the change of job, status, title and location don't magically cure a child molester."
Diocese and Jesuit officials said Wednesday they have not withheld pertinent information. The diocese has openly shared its records for trial, according to human resources director Ronnie Rosenberg. If documents were submitted after the disclosure deadline, it's because they had just surfaced or represented duplicates already disclosed, she said.
"We have not stonewalled any documents," she said. "These are documents from years ago that are not maintained in any central repository."
Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, who represents Jane Doe 2, said he requested the diocese records in the summer of 2004 and doesn't believe documents just surfaced. Roosa has asked the Nome judge to impose sanctions against the church for its late disclosure.
"I think the diocese finally started looking for documents," he said. "This forces me to divert my attention to a matters I should have dealt with long ago."
Poole, who lives in an assisted living facility in Spokane, Wash., did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
In the pending lawsuit, Poole is accused of sexually abusing Jane Doe 2 more than 100 times over eight years, beginning in 1975 when she was 12. She got pregnant by Poole at age 14 and had an abortion after the priest told her to "get rid of the baby," according to the complaint.
The case is the first complaint alleging abuse by a priest to make it trial in Alaska and among more than 90 sexual abuse claims against former priests and church volunteers under the diocese's far-flung jurisdiction. It's one of five allegations lodged against Poole.
Two of the claims naming Poole have been settled for more than $1 million.
Over the weekend, priests at churches throughout the diocese read a letter from Kettler outlining ways to handle abuse claims. The least desirable option, the bishop wrote, would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, which would allow structured payments to current and future claimants.
The diocese serves 41 parishes spread out over more than 400,000 square miles covering Alaska's Interior, the North Slope and the west coast of Alaska.
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