A judge in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri ordered Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest (SNAP) to turn over decades of records, concerning victim reports of sexual abuse to the Catholic Church. However, while the Church wanted all the documents, the judge decided to limit the amount of information searched and disclosed to the Church.
Attorneys for the Catholic Church requested the information because they believe SNAP coached the victims. SNAP strongly denies coaching victims. Due to a five-year statute of limitation reaffirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006, the defense for the Catholic Church would need to prove victims did not suppress the memories of sexual abuse and started remembering decades later.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Ann Mesle said that a broad request for records suited the long timelines of this case, which alleges clergy sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy in the 1970s.
“The issues of this case are serious,” Mesle said. “Yes, we’re going back 24 years, but this case goes back 40 years.”
Under the 2006 ruling, all subsequent lawsuits have been time barred.
Ruling in a priest-abuse case in 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a five-year statute of limitations on civil sexual abuse allegations, unless the victim could prove that he or she had repressed the memory. In such cases, the statute of limitation would begin to run whenever the victim recovered the memory and was “capable of ascertainment” that damage had been done.
One of the victims in this lawsuit involves a man who was 13 years old at the time of the abuse. The defendants are Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Tierney is accused of sexually attacking and molesting “John Doe B.P.”, as named in the case, when he was 13 years old. The Church reassigned Tierney, who denied wrongdoing, last June.
"I believe they (lawyers for Tierney and the diocese) are entitled to have information on repressed memory," Jackson County Circuit Judge Ann Mesle said Friday.
The information acquired from SNAP will be used for four other cases, including one in Clinton County Missouri.
Mesle, who gave the order on Monday, expected all sides to appeal the ruling and expects them to “slog it out” in appeals court. Her order not only orders SNAP to hand over the records, but also limits the information the Catholic Church receives concerning the victims and sexual abuse by priests, such as third party names may be removed from the documents.
According to the defense attorney, Brian Madden, for Tierney, one the accusations is that the Church is trying to out the victims. Madden denies the accusation.
“One of the allegations in the press is that the lawyers and the diocese is trying to ‘out’ the alleged victims,” said lawyer Brian Madden, who represents Tierney. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Attorney Brendan J. Donelon, who recently joined SNAP’s legal defense team, acknowledged that the group’s stormy history with the church had hindered progress on the document request.
“I’m not trying to be obstructionist,” Donelon said. “I’m trying to get us to a point where we can get this resolved so it doesn’t take a lot of time and resources.”
Donelon stated he will keep his appeals options open.
If it is found that the victims did not repress any memories, then the priests have a “bullet proof” defense for this case and future lawsuits concerning past abuse, regardless if the victim’s memory is true and accurate.
Rebecca Randles, attorney for B.P. said her client never had contact with SNAP and his psychologist, not associated with SNAP, stated they B.P. legitimately suppressed the memories of the abuse.
According to Madden, there are five lawsuits against Tierney and all of them allege repressed memory. Most lawsuits against the diocese also contain similar allegations of repressed memories.