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Spotlight Report

Abuse group fights diocese subpoena

Church seeking details on victims

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, 9/22/2002

Charging the Catholic Diocese of Worcester with trying to intimidate victims of clergy sexual abuse, a support group for those abused has vowed to fight a subpoena from the diocese that asks leaders to turn over victims' names and correspondence.

Lawyers for the diocese subpoenaed leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, this month while defending the diocese against a civil lawsuit. In the lawsuit, five women allege that the diocese failed to protect them from the Rev. Robert E. Kelley, a convicted rapist who has admitted to molesting 50 to 100 girls while assigned to St. Cecilia's parish in Leominster 20 years ago.

Besides seeking information about the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including their correspondence and the dates they participated in network events, the subpoena asks for ''the names of all persons'' who have ever said Kelley abused them, and the names of every person who has asserted abuse by any priest in the diocese.

''If this is successful, nobody's going to call,'' said Phil Saviano, director of the survivor network's New England chapter. ''From the very first phone call, victims ... want to know that what they say is kept in strict confidence.''

He said the move by the diocese is particularly disturbing in light of promises made this summer at the national conference of bishops who gathered in Texas to plan reforms, and pledged to show more concern for victims.

Boston lawyer Wendy Murphy called the move by the diocese ''overboard, far-reaching, and ridiculous in scope,'' and said even a narrower demand would be inappropriate. Hired by the survivors' network last week, she said she will file a motion to quash the subpoena. Murphy and SNAP members scheduled a news conference tomorrow at Harvard University to announce their plans.

Because the case against Kelley is so strong, the information sought by the diocese is irrelevant, she said, and the subpoena seems designed to ''intimidate and harass'' rather than help build a case.

Kelley, who served several years in prison after pleading guilty to a rape charge in 1990, has estimated in depositions that he was involved in 50 to 100 incidents of sexual abuse of girls. He has not been active in the priesthood since 1986, though he has not been defrocked. He faced two new rape charges this year, was freed on bail, and is scheduled to be back in court at the end of the month.

''Certainly, nobody is trying to put pressure on SNAP and its membership,'' said James G. Reardon, a lawyer for the Worcester diocese. ''There is no intention to harass, or intimidate them in any way.''

Anthony M. Salerno, Kelley's lawyer, said the information sought by the diocese is relevant, in light of ''serious questions about alleged victims' abilities to recall events of 20 years ago.''

The subpoena ''is totally appropriate,'' he said. ''Defense attorneys should have equal access to discovery and evidence.'' If anyone thinks victims will be dissuaded from coming forward, ''given the exposure, the number of support groups in place today, and the recent $10 million settlement, I think they're a bit naive,'' he said.

''This is an outrage,'' said Paul Baier, a member of the Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay Catholics who came together this year after the abuse scandal rocked the Catholic church. ''The church is actually going after a group that is trying to help the victims with the mess the church has caused.''

Baier said he is concerned that victims who desperately need help will no longer seek out support groups like SNAP, fearing their privacy cannot be protected. The push by the diocese could also jeopardize the work of other support groups, such as rape crisis centers or battered women's shelters, he said.

''Half of these victims do not have life insurance and the only place they can go for services are groups like these,'' he said. ''Victims during their most vulnerable time now have to worry if the law is going to come in and grab them.''

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, backed SNAP, saying, ''There are questions here if the information requested is relevant, overbroad, unduly burdensome, or just meant to harass.

''If the members are not the five individuals that brought suit and they have no information relative to the lawsuit, then it is questionable that any information relevant to the case can be produced.''

Megan Tench of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Jenny Jiang contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 9/22/2002.
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