After More Than 40 Years, Priest Abuse Head Can Go to Trial

By Jim Walsh
August 5, 2013

CAMDEN — A Camden man who claims he was molested as a child by a South Jersey priest can argue in court he repressed memories of the abuse for more than 40 years, a federal judge has ruled.

Mark Bryson contends he was repeatedly assaulted in the late 1960s by the Rev. Joseph Shannon at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden. But Bryson also says he only remembered the abuse in February 2010 — an assertion key to a lawsuit he filed last year against the Diocese of Camden.

Bryson’s awareness of any alleged abuse could affect the two-year statute of limitations for his lawsuit. Bryson, who now lives in Ohio, contends the 24-month period began when his memory returned.

In contrast, the diocese contends the deadline passed two years after Bryson’s 18th birthday.

“There’s controversy over the issue of recovered memory,” Peter Feuerherd, a diocesan spokesman, said Friday. “We dispute the issue of recovered memory in this particular case.”

U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle Thursday said he will hold a hearing in his Camden courtroom to address the statute of limitations issue. The session, known as a Lopez hearing, will be held Oct. 15 and 16.

Simandle rejected requests by the diocese to dismiss Bryson’s case and strike the testimony of his proposed expert witness.

Bryson, who was born in 1961, claims he was molested as a first-grade student at his parish school in the Cramer Hill neighborhood. He asserts his memories were suppressed by “traumatic amnesia” until an incident in February 2010.

According to the ruling, Bryson was living in Florida when his wife “accessed a website listing sex offenders living in their police district.”

“One offender lived on their street, often wore black and resembled a priest,” Simandle’s decision said.

When Bryson realized his neighbor was a sex offender, the opinion continues, “the memories of abuse by Shannon flooded back in.”

According to a report from Bryson’s expert witness, sex-abuse counselor Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea of Charlotte, N.C., “it is not unusual for sexual abuse victims to dissociate those experiences, having amnesia for the memories until some environmental cue triggers them into consciousness.”

She said Bryson’s description of how his memories returned “is not unusual among adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.” According to the opinion, Bryson said he “cried and wailed” as he first recalled the alleged abuse.

But Frawley-O’Dea produced her findings in two reports, and the second came several months after a court-ordered deadline. As a result, Simandle ruled, the diocese’s attorney could depose, or question, Frawley-O’Dea in advance of the hearing.

The judge also ordered Bryson to cover the cost of bringing his witness to South Jersey for that deposition.

Simandle also noted the diocese “may choose to rebut her testimony at the (upcoming) hearing with other expert witness testimony.” He observed, too, that the diocese has indicated “future plans to challenge the scientific validity of memory repression theory.”

The judge also noted he must assess the “extent of prejudice” to the diocese, “which depends in part on the credibility of (Bryson’s) memories and the memories of other living witnesses.”



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.