NCR Publishes Editorial Defending SNAP in Missouri Subpoena Situation

By William D. Linsey
The Bilgrimage
January 14, 2012

National Catholic Reporter has just published an editorial decrying the attack now being mounted on the SNAP organization by lawyers working for the Catholic church. The editorial frames its statement by recounting the story of Bartek Obloj, who hanged himself in Poland in 2007. Obloj was thirteen years old at the time. He left a suicide note stating that his parish priest, Stanislaw Kaszowski, had sexually molested him.

Kaszowski celebrated Bartek Obloj's funeral Mass. He was then moved to a new parish. He refuses to testify in court at court hearings about the case. As the NCR editorial notes, one of the primary reasons that advocacy groups working to assist survivors of clerical sexual abuse are still needed is that cases like the case of Bartek Obloj continue to reach the news.

The abuse is still happening. And church officials continue to seek to skirt and defy the law when cases of abuse are made public.

NCR's editorial finds the court orders demanding that SNAP disclose information that has been kept private up to now "wrong on a number of counts." In the first place, these orders are demanding documents that disclose an extraordinary and unprecedented range of information, and so the court orders represent "a kind of legal carte blanche that courts should protect against" and not facilitate. People who have sought SNAP's assistance and have no connection whatsoever to the cases in Kansas City or St. Louis where the disclosure of documents is being demanded will have their privacy violated.

Second, more lawyers are filing cross notices for information that goes beyond what is already available in the six-hour deposition David Clohessy made recently in Kansas City. SNAP is not even a party to either the lawsuit in Kansas City or St. Louis in which courts are ordering disclosure of more material.

And so NCR concludes,

This certainly looks like a fishing expedition aimed at dismantling the organization, and lawyers keep climbing on board.
The editorial notes that both the Missouri Press Association and ten victims' advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs critiquing the court orders requiring SNAP to release information not even related to the cases in which the court orders have been handed down. The first amicus brief notes that the court orders will have a chilling effect on media coverage of abuse cases, since private SNAP communications with reporters are among the pieces of information lawyers are now seeking. The second amicus brief argues that the court demands for disclosure of documents are unconstitutional, and violate the privacy of SNAP members and volunteers--and by extension, I'd note, through the precedent they set, of anyone working in any advocacy organization similar to SNAP's, including organizations to assist battered women, rape victims, etc.

As I did in the posting to which the last link above points, NCR also points out that Catholic officials and SNAP are not functioning on a level playing field as abuse cases are dealt with and adjudicated. SNAP and Catholic dioceses are not "equivalent structures," since SNAP is an advocacy organization seeking privacy to protect the identities of victims of sexual abuse--not of those perpetrating the abuse (as is the case with dioceses). And the fiscal resources available to SNAP can't hold a candle to those available to even a single Catholic diocese or religious community.

And so the editorial concludes,

Accused priests and dioceses have the right to defend themselves in our court system, but these subpoenas go beyond building an adequate defense. They are in the same lineage of hardball legal tactics that have been used for years to intimidate abuse victims and their advocates.
Hardball legal tactics that have been used for years to intimidate: and, when courts give them legal sanction, these tactics will continue to be used by Catholic officials, and the intimidation will continue, even as 13-year old boys abused by priests in the period after 2000 hang themselves.


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