Church Tries to Bar Documents

By Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
October 8, 2009

Jury's use of papers latest issue in sex abuse case

In the three years since a local attorney filed suit against the Catholic Diocese of Savannah on behalf of an alleged victim of child sexual abuse, gathering evidence has been difficult.

Larry Richter and his colleague, Aaron Edwards, said a total of 50 motions have been filed in the case, following a simple pattern: The Mount Pleasant-based Richter Firm requests documents, the church refuses to release the documents citing privacy issues and First Amendment rights, then the court compels the church to relinquish the material.

In the latest legal exchange, the diocese has filed a motion to prevent the jury from using certain documents when the case goes to trial Dec. 7 in Jasper County, where some of the alleged abuse occurred. Wayland Yoder Brown, the accused, is a former priest who last year was released from prison in Maryland after serving five years of a 10-year sentence on two counts of child molestation in that state.

The motion, along with Richter's opposing motion, was heard by Judge Carmen T. Mullen in Beaufort on Tuesday. The diocese is arguing that the court should "exclude from evidence any document, letter, memorandum, paper, or report reflecting any information regarding the selection, formation, ordination, fitness and laicization (defrocking) of Defendant Wayland Brown," according to court filings.

"The Catholic Church's decision to ordain a man to the priesthood, the spiritual formation process, and later the decision to laicize him, or permanently remove him from priestly ministry, is a fundamental religious exercise," and therefore violates the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the diocese stated.

Edwards said crimes of child sexual abuse are a civil matter. He is arguing that the diocese "knew or should have known that a priest who abused in the past will abuse in the future (and) didn't take steps to prevent it, and in fact covered up evidence."

Judge Mullen heard both arguments and took the motions under consideration, Edwards said. Her ruling will be issued soon.

Allan Carl Ranta Jr., a student in schools operated by the diocese, was repeatedly taken across state lines into South Carolina during the early 1980s and molested by Brown, the lawsuit alleges.

In response to several questions e-mailed to the diocese, Communications Director Barbara King said she could not address the specifics of a pending case.

"The Diocese of Savannah has confidence in the process and looks forward to its opportunity to address Mr. Richter's client's allegations in court. The diocese does not believe it appropriate to comment on the specifics of pending litigation in this forum except to reiterate that from the inception of this litigation, the diocese has denied the allegations of responsibility on the part of the diocese," King wrote.

Last year, Savannah attorney Joseph P. Brennan said the diocese was "denying responsibility for acts of this priest that are outside his priestly duties."

The suit was filed in the Jasper County Court of Common Pleas because the alleged abuse occurred there. It states that Brown came to know Ranta through counseling and mentoring, and that from about 1979 to 1982, he molested the boy in Georgia and South Carolina.

The additional documents were collected from the diocese; the Vatican; St. Luke Institute in Maryland, where Brown was sent by the diocese in October 1986 for evaluation and counseling; and other places.

Doctors at St. Luke diagnosed Brown with "alcohol abuse episodic, in remission," "narcissistic personality disorder," obesity and mild glucosuria, according to court records. A letter from the Bishop of Savannah to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informed Catholic officials in Rome of "the necessity for (Brown) to abstain from even the slightest ingestion of alcohol," prompting the Holy See to prescribe "mustum" -- grape juice -- instead of wine for the celebration of the Eucharist, records state.

Brown victimized at least eight children between 1968 and 1986, according to a diocese referral to the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome obtained by the lawyers.

The day after his June 16, 1987, release from St. Luke Institute, Brown was appointed associate pastor of St. James the Less Catholic Church in Savannah by then-bishop the Most Rev. Raymond Lessard, documents show.

In 2002, the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County issued an arrest warrant for Brown, charging him with child abuse and perverted practice, records show.

Concerns about Brown were expressed as early as 1969, when he was assigned to St. James Catholic School and Parish, according to the suit.


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