Church's Defense Called 'Immoral'
Archdiocese Fights Dirty in Abuse Cases, Critic Says
By Robert King firstname.lastname@example.org
August 15, 2006
A national advocate for the victims of priest sexual abuse criticized the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Monday for an "immoral" strategy of using technicalities to fend off lawsuits.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Indianapolis Archdiocese is "particularly mean-spirited" in its use of "legal hardball."
Specifically, Clohessy cited the archdiocese's use of the statute of limitations, which requires plaintiffs, most of whom say they were abused as children, to sue before they turn 20.
Clohessy also said the archdiocese is wrong to use the First Amendment to argue the church can't be sued or that the church is not liable for priests from religious orders.
"Our position is fight fair, don't fight dirty," Clohessy said. "Fight on the merits, not on the technicalities."
Clohessy took issue with Indianapolis attorney Jay Mercer, who defends the archdiocese in sexual abuse cases, for telling The Indianapolis Star it doesn't matter to him whether the church wins on the merits or due to the statute of limitations. "I don't see a difference. You may see a difference," Mercer told The Star last month. "A win is a win."
Clohessy said if Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein truly cares about sex abuse victims he would publicly object to such a statement.
"We think the attitude that (Mercer) expressed is indeed the attitude of the archbishop," Clohessy said.
"We don't think Jesus would approve of a church lawyer essentially saying we will win at all costs no matter what it takes."
Mercer could not be reached Monday for comment.
Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the church is not using hardball tactics but merely going through the same legal processes that would take place in any case.
He noted that the church continues to urge victims to come forward and, as a matter of "pastoral care," offers them payment for counseling without investigating their allegations.
"The pastoral issue and the legal issue are two separate things," Otolski said. "We are offering pastoral care to people. The legal side of this is the law."
The archdiocese prevailed earlier this year in a Southern Indiana case when a judge ruled that 22 plaintiffs filed their cases too late. The statute of limitations will be a key in the 12 cases pending against the archdiocese and former priest Harry Monroe.
Roger Pardieck, a Seymour attorney representing California resident Gretchen Mayerhofer, said the archdiocese has not turned over personnel records on the late Rev. Germain Belen. Mayerhofer alleges Belen sexually assaulted her repeatedly in the 1970s at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Terre Haute. Her case, filed in 2003, has yet to go to trial. One problem, Pardieck said, is the difficulty getting church records.
"They have extensive documents. They are required by their canons to keep extensive records," Pardieck said. "They said they have turned over everything they have. If that is true, they haven't kept the records they are required to keep."
Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.
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