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Spotlight Report

Bishop calls off subpoena

Records at issue in Worcester case

By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/24/2002

Facing a barrage of criticism from alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, Bishop Daniel Reilly of the Diocese of Worcester yesterday ordered church lawyers to withdraw a subpoena that attempted to force a victims support group to turn over the names and records of its members.

In a one-page statement, Reilly said he was ''dismayed'' to learn from news reports Sunday that a lawyer for the company that insures the Worcester Diocese ''found it necessary to seek records of alleged victims'' from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

Reilly said neither he nor his chancery staff had been told of the legal maneuver, which he said undercuts the church's efforts to support victims.

''The Diocese of Worcester is committed to the care and support of those who have been victims of child sexual abuse by clergy and I stand unequivocally by that commitment,'' Reilly said in the statement.

Noting that the Worcester Diocese now has an office for victim services and mandates criminal background checks for employees and volunteers who have unsupervised contact with children, Reilly said: ''I am sure that SNAP and others will recognize that our aim is, must be, and will be healing for past cases of abuse and prevention of future harm even as we deal with civil actions in the court system.''

The subpoena, dated Sept. 9, was delivered by lawyers who are defending the Worcester Diocese against a lawsuit brought by five women who allege church officials failed to protect them from the Rev. Robert E. Kelley, a convicted rapist who has admitted molesting 50 to 100 girls while assigned to St. Cecilia's Parish in Leominster from 1976 to 1983.

Stoneham attorney Joanne Goulka, who issued the subpoena, sought not only all of SNAP's records on the five women, but also all documents including the names of SNAP members who alleged they had been sexually abused by any priest associated with the Worcester Diocese.

''They knew it was an attack not only on the organization, but on the victims who have come to us,'' Phil Saviano, regional director of SNAP, said yesterday, adding that the promise of confidentiality is what encourages many alleged victims to seek help from the support group.

At a rally in Harvard Square yesterday held by some two dozen members of various groups representing alleged victims of clergy abuse, Saviano said the diocese's move to withdraw the subpoena ''shows the success of survivors standing up and saying, `Don't mess with us.'''

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who represents SNAP, said the subpoena was unprecedented because no church hierarchy has tried to get the records of support groups that have been formed to help the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

''They knew it was wrong,'' Murphy said. ''They knew it would scare, intimidate, and undermine victims.''

While there is a state law that protects rape crisis centers from having to turn over records to lawyers, there is no law that explicitly prevents courts from ordering access to records kept by support groups like SNAP, Murphy acknowledged. However, she said, there is legal precedent to protect records like those of support groups.

SNAP, which was formed in 1990 and has about 3,400 members nationally, is reviewing how it keeps records and may push for legislation to protect the confidentiality of its members, according to Murphy and Saviano.

Neither Goulka nor attorney James G. Reardon Jr., who represents the Worcester Diocese, returned calls seeking comment yesterday.

Attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, who represents the five women suing the diocese, called Reilly's intervention to withdraw the subpoena ''a good move. It showed a more enlightened approach.''

The scope of the subpoena ''scared a lot of people and upset a lot of people,'' Newman said.

Susan Renehan, who said she was abused by a priest in New Jersey as a child, said she never told anyone about the assaults until she joined SNAP a decade ago.

She called the move to subpoena statements that alleged victims made in support groups a form of ''intimidation, harassment, and re-victimization.''

Ray Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said Reilly was ''taken aback'' when he learned the scope of the subpoena and the public's reaction to it.

''He's concerned this would be perceived as a way to harm the support group and there's no intent whatsoever to that end,'' Delisle said.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/24/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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