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Catholic Whistleblowers urge greater accountability on sex abuse crisis

Catholic Whistleblowers urge greater accountability on sex abuse crisis

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

From the link:

In its first public action Wednesday, a national network of Catholic clergy and nuns founded in part by a Milwaukee-area priest called on the church to take a stronger stand against child sexual abuse in its ranks.

Eight members of the Catholic Whistleblowers gathered for a news conference in New York, home to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is considered the most influential American prelate.

The group urged Dolan to use his influence to help oust Newark, N.J., Bishop John Myers, who has been in the news in recent weeks for allowing a pedophile priest continued access to minors, in violation of an agreement with prosecutors.

In addition, members called on Catholic bishops to:

 Support proposed legislation in New York, Wisconsin and elsewhere, that would lift statutes of limitations on sex crimes against children. (A Wisconsin bill, known as the Child Victims Act, is expected to be re-introduced this legislative session.)

 Adopt policies, similar to one in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, that protect priests, nuns and other church employees who report child sex abuse or cover-ups to civil authorities.

“The church has made strides; thousands of people have been trained in how to spot and report sex abuse. But all of that has to do with the future,” said the Rev. James Connell of Sheboygan, who has emerged in recent years as a vocal advocate for child sex abuse victims.

“But that doesn’t address the accountability, or the justice issues of the past,” he said. “Those issues are still at hand.”

A spokesman for Dolan said in an e-mail that the Archdiocese of New York has had a policy for years that encourages those with allegations of abuse to report them to civil authorities, and that here are no known abusers serving in the dioceses. He did not respond to questions about Myers or the statute-of-limitations legislation.

The group laid out its mission at a news conference at Cardozo Law School, which employs First Amendment scholar, Marci Hamilton, who has represented church victims in lawsuits across the country, including in Wisconsin.

Hamilton successfully argued the 2007 Wisconsin Supreme Court case that allows victims to sue religious entities under the state’s fraud statute — the basis of the 570-plus claims in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Bankruptcy. And she won a January ruling in the bankruptcy case that barred the archdiocese from using the First Amendment to keep up to $57 million in cemetery funds from being tapped for sex abuse settlements. That decision is on appeal to the U.S. District Court.

Connell is a founding member of the Whistleblowers, a group of like-minded mostly priests and nuns, brought together last year by the founders of, a Boston-based non-profit that researches and posts information about the Catholic church’s response to sexual abuse.

Other members include well-known critics of the church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis, including Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who alerted U.S. Catholic Bishops to the coming crisis in the 1980s; and Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk and “fixer,” who was sent by his order to clean up after abusive priests, and now consults for victims in lawsuits around the country.

SNAP Accuses Green Bay Diocese of Destroying Evidence

SNAP Accuses Green Bay Diocese of Destroying Evidence

By Paul Srubas
The Press-Gazette
December 22, 2010

A group that represents victims of clergy sex abuse has accused the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay of embarking on a policy to destroy potential evidence in clergy abuse cases.

“It’s an intentional, deliberate act of destroying what’s in the file,” said Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “This is a potential record of crimes committed against us, and criminal evidence, and it’s evidence of potential fraud, which is the concealment or transference of clerics” guilty of sexual abuse.

The diocese denied the accusations on Tuesday, saying it continues to be cooperative with victims of sex abuse cases but has been following a records management policy that has been in place for the last four years.

SNAP issued a press release on Tuesday accusing the diocese of destroying personnel records and other documents that would aid in the investigation of sexually abusive priests.

The group based its accusations on recent court testimony given by the Rev. James Doerfler, a top diocesan official. The group quoted Doerfler as saying former diocesan leader Bishop David Zubik issued orders in 2007 to destroy records pertaining to pedophile priests.

Doerfler said Zubik’s orders were based on the diocese’s new records-management policy, which went into effect at about the same time that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that victims of priest abuse can sue under fraud statutes outside the normal six-year statute of limitations, Isely said.

“What was wrong with the policy up to this point?” Isely asked, adding that the policy change clearly came into effect as the diocese rushed to protect itself from lawsuits under the new Supreme Court ruling.

Todd and Troy Merryfield of St. Paul have filed such a suit in Outagamie County Circuit Court. Now they are asking the judge in the case to issue an order forbidding further destruction of church records. Former parish priest John Patrick Feeney abused the Merryfield boys in 1978 when they were parishioners at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom. Feeney is serving a 15-year year prison term on sexual abuse convictions.

The Merryfields are suing the diocese for fraud, for allegedly failing to inform St. Nicholas church of Feeney’s past, including his church-ordered sexual abuse counseling.

Todd Merryfield stood Tuesday afternoon with representatives of SNAP in a press conference at the federal courthouse in Green Bay to condemn the diocese’s actions involving diocesan records.

Also with them was Sheboygan priest James Connell, who, as a member of the Milwaukee archdiocese’s sexual abuse review board, has condemned the Green Bay diocese’s new records-management policy.

Deacon Tim Reilly, the diocese’s director of administration, said SNAP’s accusations are wrong.

He said the diocese’s new policy calls for destruction of personnel records only in the cases of priests who have been dead for a year or more, and in no case are the records destroyed if they concern pending court cases.

The diocese’s new policy was enacted in 2006 — a year before the Supreme Court decision allowing fraud cases — after five years of study, Reilly said. The records retention policy is a 146-page document dealing with a whole gamut of records from all diocesan departments, not just personnel files of accused priests, Reilly said.