As we’ve been reporting on the Ms. Blog, Kansas City was rocked last fall by the indictment of Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report that a priest in his parish had pornographic pictures of children on his computer. Finn managed to avoid any serious punishment; he simply has to regularly report to a prosecutor any suspicious goings-on in his diocese that might relate to sexual abuse.
Meanwhile a lawsuit filed against another accused Kansas City pedophile priest, Fr. Michael Tierney–the fifth such suit against Tierney since 2010–has tried to ensnare just the organization devoted to stopping such sexual abuse, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).
Last month, David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director, was subjected to a six-hour deposition in the case of John Doe BP v. Fr. Michael Tierney and the Kansas City Diocese. Lawyers for Finn and Tierney stated that lawyers for “Doe” (a 53-year-old man who accuses Tierney of assaulting him when he was a young altar boy) violated a gag order by discussing the case with SNAP–charges that SNAP, Clohessy and “Doe” deny. During his deposition Clohessy refused to compromise the privacy of victims of priest abuse by giving up names and information, even though he was subpoenaed to do so.
Clohessy informed me that “no formal complaint had been made on the alleged gag order violation.” He went on to say that out of 700 questions asked of him during the deposition, only 3 pertained to the case in question. “The lawyers for Finn and Tierney kept repeating the same question: How does SNAP operate?”
In a statement published on its website, SNAP said:
Catholic officials want private, personal records and e mails involving hundreds of individuals who have never even heard of or met the accused or the accusers in the two suits. This is a misuse of judicial processes designed to crush a support and advocacy group that protects the vulnerable and heals the wounded. It’s cleverly orchestrated to keep clergy sex crimes and cover ups concealed.
SNAP says that this is the first time in the 23-year history of the group that any of its staff have been asked to turn over records. Another SNAP staffer, Barbara Dorris, was also subpoenaed with a demand for the organization’s records.
At first Clohessy thought that the Catholic Church was on a “fishing expedition,” but now believes that it is far more heinous than that. “This situation has the potential to close us down, and we believe that to be the intentions of the church.” Victims of priest sexual abuse count on SNAP being discreet and confidential; without it, SNAP couldn’t survive and continue fighting for victims’ rights.