20 Mar 2011

US clergy abuse lawyer says lawsuits only way to force churches to end secrecy, protect children, compensate survivors



Journal Sentinel - Milwaukee, Wisconsin March 13, 2011

Lawyer states case for clergy sex abuse victims

Anderson calls his effort public, moral imperatives


By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel



St. Paul, Minn —  Jeff Anderson has heard it all.

He's been called a scourge. A parasite. A media-monger hellbent on bringing down the Catholic Church.

But the Minnesota lawyer who's made a career of suing the most powerful religious institution in the world over its handling of clergy sex abuse cases pays no mind.

"I don't care what people think, and I don't try to control it," said Anderson, the lead attorney in civil fraud cases pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who is now representing those victims in the archdiocese's bankruptcy.

"I'm answering what I believe to be a public imperative - a moral imperative - to make what we have come to know public," he said.

"I make no apologies for this, and I never will. I'm not doing this to promote me. I'm doing this to protect the kids."

Anderson is, by all accounts, the nation's most prolific and successful litigator in sex-abuse cases against the church.

He is responsible for the release of thousands of pages of church documents illuminating the scope of the crisis. And he's pushed in recent years to implicate not just bishops but the Vatican and the pope himself in what Anderson alleges - and the church steadfastly denies - is a global conspiracy to cover up decades of sexual abuse of children.

Though he's yet to win a case in Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee bankruptcy filing has stalled pending lawsuits against it, Anderson and his team of lawyers have scored significant victories elsewhere.

In separate rulings over the last year, federal courts have paved the way for Anderson to sue the Vatican in Oregon, and to use a 200-year-old human-rights law to bring a Mexican abuse case into the U.S. courts - both first-of-their-kind cases.

"He has certainly been the driving force in this large movement," said Jason Berry, a New Orleans writer and practicing Catholic who has documented the crisis since the 1980s and profiles Anderson in his upcoming book, "Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church."

"He's a warrior," Berry said of Anderson. "He fights aggressively for his clients and has a very deep passion for people who have been abused."

Critics offer a different view. Bill Donohue of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights accuses Anderson of waging a vendetta against the church, at the exclusion of other offenders.

Critics also suggest he's in it for the money, or harboring some anti-Christian bias. And they argue that his continued focus on litigation is undermining the good works of the church.

"You have to ask how much litigation is too much, when it diverts so many resources from programs and makes everybody adversaries," said Mark Chopko, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former chief counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Anderson's story

Anderson, 63, is an unlikely millionaire whose own story of failure and redemption - and of abuse in his own family - informs his life and work.

A recovering alcoholic and college dropout who once flunked out of law school (he disliked its "arcane" rules about attendance), Anderson honed his outrage in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

He spent his early career in the Ramsey County public defender's office and built a private practice representing clients at the margins, including many in the African-American community and homosexuals arrested in raids on bathhouses in St. Paul in the 1970s.

His first case against the Catholic Church involved Father Thomas Adamson, a Minnesota priest who was accused of molesting several boys in the 1970s and '80s.

In 1983, almost two decades before the sex abuse crisis would erupt in Boston, John and Janet Riedle walked into Anderson's St. Paul office seeking his advice. The couple had just learned that their adult son, Greg, had been sexually assaulted years earlier by Adamson, who was still in their parish.

Distraught, they said they reported it to then-Bishop Robert Carlson, now archbishop of St. Louis, who told them there wasn't much he could do about it. And days later, they said, they received a $1,600 check in the mail.

"They had the check in their hands and they were crying, saying, 'Mr. Anderson, what should we do?' "

Anderson took their son's case and spent the next few years interviewing witnesses and deposing bishops in two dioceses. When church lawyers offered to settle for $1 million, he said, he was shocked that they would ask for his client's silence with "the usual confidentiality agreement."

"I said, 'Usual? What do you mean usual?' " Anderson said, his voice rising with indignation. "Then I said, 'Wait a minute. You've done this before? How many times?' "

Anderson said he took the offer to Greg Riedle, hoping he'd reject it.

"I started crying, saying Greg, they've done this before and they're going to do it again, and I can't be part of it," said Anderson, who's been known to weep when telling the story, including on this occasion.

He says Riedle told him: "Do what you have to do. But do it quick before I change my mind."

Anderson filed the lawsuit, walked back to his office and called local news outlets, kicking off what would become a media frenzy.

"All of a sudden, more victims of Adamson and other priests started to come forward. It was a tipping point," Anderson said.

"When I went public with it and saw the magnitude of the problem, I realized that this is what I needed to do. It lit me up, and it still does."

Anderson would later come to understand the Riedles' anguish in a more personal way. Fifteen years later, he said, he learned his adult daughter had been molested by a former priest-turned-psychologist she'd seen during her parents' divorce when she was 8.

"Learning about (his daughter) brought me to another layer of understanding of the magnitude of this kind of betrayal," Anderson said. "I've always had a deep connection to the pain of the survivors. . . .  But this brought me even closer in a way that makes me part of who I am."

Questioned beliefs

The Riedle case would shake Anderson's own spiritual foundation.

Raised Lutheran, Anderson had married a Catholic and brought his first three children up in the faith.

He was never truly devout in either. But, as he uncovered the crimes and deceptions in the Adamson case, he began to seriously question his beliefs in organized religion of any kind.

"I went through a crisis of faith . . .  and a period of time in where I would have described myself as an atheist. Looking back, I think I confused faith and religions," he said.

Today, Anderson belongs to Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., where his second wife and three youngest children are active. He supports it financially, especially its missionary work, but attends only for sacraments or special occasions.

Anderson espouses a deep spirituality, born of his recovery from alcoholism, that draws from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and other traditions.

"I'm a deist, I believe in a higher power, in God, and it's a very important part of my life," he said.

Anderson's own hardships and journey are part of what draws many victims to him, said Jeffrey Lena, a California attorney who represents the Vatican.

"He has a sort of missionary zeal," he said.

"And on some level he's managed to intertwine a salvation story about his own life with the salvation narratives of survivors of abuse."

Thousands of clients

Since the Riedles' case, Anderson has represented what he says has been thousands of victims across the country, including creditors in several church bankruptcies. He has never, he says, agreed to a confidentiality clause.

Anderson heads an 18-member firm in an ornately appointed historic building in downtown St. Paul, and has opened offices in Milwaukee, Los Angeles and London, where new cases are just beginning to be filed.

Wiry and fit, he's known for his long days and 4 a.m. e-mails, and he's frequently on the road for court appearances or news conferences.

A measure of his prominence, and political contributions, can be found in an out-of-the-way corridor of his two-story offices. There, framed photographs of Anderson and his family with presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama share space with legal accolades and a note from then-California Gov. Gray Davis thanking Anderson for his work in helping pass legislation that made it easier for sex abuse victims to bring their cases in court.

Among Anderson's most high-profile clients is Raul Gonzalez, the son of the late Marciel Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who alleges his father sexually abused him, abetted by his order. But he's also known for taking cases other lawyers won't, because they're too expensive to pursue or unlikely to succeed.

"He has spent a great deal of money representing clients whose cases never got into the system," said Berry, who estimates more than a third of Anderson's cases have been lost to lapsed statutes of limitations.

Anderson won't discuss compensation, except to say that contingencies range from 25% to 40% of judgments. He claims not to know how many cases he has pending or how much he's earned for victims over the years, though it's been estimated by some as high as $60 million.

His single largest verdict was $30 million, in the 1998 case of Father Oliver O'Grady, the California priest whose crimes were detailed in the 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary "Deliver us From Evil." The judgment was later reduced to about $7 million.

Sex abuse victims are notoriously mercurial and difficult to work with, and Anderson's longevity speaks to his commitment, said David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, which works closely with Anderson.

"If it was about the money, he could have retired 20 years ago," Clohessy said. "Jeff genuinely cares about children, about injustice and about exposing corruption."

'Sees the big picture'

Lawyers who work with him, on both sides of the bar, describe Anderson as tenacious; a visionary; an adroit legal mind who, while bombastic in news conferences, is deferential in court.

"The genius of Jeff is that he sees the big picture, he sees what needs to be done and brings the team together to get it done," said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo Law School in New York, who's worked with Anderson in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

His persistence has been evident in Wisconsin, where the courts first blocked church cases in 1995 on First Amendment grounds, then opened the door in 2007 for victims who could show they were defrauded.

"He just kept coming, to the side door, the back door, then down the chimney until finally he was able to get a lot of those cases into the courts that might otherwise not have been brought," said Berry.

Some adversaries question his tactics: the frequent press releases and news conferences, the labeling of priests as "pedophiles" before investigations are completed.

"He's never met a mic he didn't like," said Lena, who stressed he was talking only about Vatican cases.

"Jeff has done important work to bring this problem to the attention of the public, but he at times takes exaggerated and outrageous positions," he said.

Critics have long questioned Anderson's financial relationship with SNAP, which collaborates with Anderson - and other attorneys, it points out - on the release of documents and media events. Neither Anderson nor SNAP would say how much he gives.

Anderson rejects the criticism, saying he donates to many child-protection groups and charities, and considers SNAP "one of the most outspoken and powerful voices for survivors."

He denies any anti-Catholic sentiment - he's pursued cases against many denominations, he says. But litigation, Anderson insists, has been the only way to get the church to divulge its secrets and begin to reform itself.

"All I want them to do is clean it up. This isn't about their theology. It isn't about any agenda that was ever anti-Catholic," he said. "It's all about their failures to protect the kids, and their decisions to protect themselves at the great peril of the kids."


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4 comments:

  1. Explosive sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican dropped

    by John L Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter Feb. 11, 2012

    ROME -- A Wisconsin sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, which helped trigger a global firestorm in early 2010, was withdrawn late Friday. It marks the formal end of a case that seemed to cast doubt on Pope Benedict XVI’s role in the abuse crisis, and shifted focus from local bishops to an alleged cover-up in Rome.

    Lawyers for the victim filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on Friday, effectively abandoning the lawsuit. It had named not only the Vatican but also Pope Benedict XVI and two senior Vatican officials, Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano, as defendants. The suit had been filed by Minnesota-based attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has frequently represented sex abuse victims against the church.

    Anderson said at the time the case was filed that he hoped to take formal depositions from Benedict XVI, Bertone and Sodano, concerning the Vatican’s role in the sex abuse crisis. Bertone is the current Secretary of State, the top official in the Vatican after the pope, a position formerly held by Sodano.

    Anderson told NCR on Saturday that the decision to withdraw the case was "pragmatic and practical," based largely on the fact that as a result of proceedings related to the bankruptcy of the Milwaukee archdiocese, he had already obtained most of the files regarding the Vatican's involvement he could have gotten through a separate lawsuit. Those documents are presently under seal, he said, but he said they paint an "ugly picture" of the Vatican's role.
    "We have not in any way abandoned our effort to hold the Vatican legally and fully accountable," Anderson said.

    While Anderson said he does not plan to refile the Wisconsin case, he still hopes to pursue depositions of Vatican figures such as Bertone and Sodano as part of other litigation. In the meantime, he said, he plans to depose Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, a former archbishop of Milwaukee, about his role in the Wisconsin case.

    The Vatican’s lawyer, California-based Jeffrey Lena, nevertheless welcomed the withdrawal of the case.

    “A case like this, which was held together by a mendacious web of claims of international conspiracy, amounts to what appears in its aftermath to have been little more than a misuse of judicial process and waste of judicial resources,” he said.

    With the collapse of a similar case in Kentucky in 2010, Friday’s dismissal leaves only the Doe v. Holy See case in Oregon, originally filed in 2002, as an active sex abuse claim against the Vatican in American courts. (Another lawsuit in Chicago has been filed but not served on the Vatican through diplomatic channels.)

    Anderson said that another reason for dismissing the Wisconsin case is that it allows attorneys to concentrate on the litigation in Oregon.

    In terms of jurisdiction, lawyers for the Vatican argued in the Wisconsin case, as they have in others, that the Vatican is immune because it’s a sovereign state. Substantively, they contended that under church law, responsibility for supervising priests and other church personnel rests with local bishops, not in Rome. ...

    read the rest of this article at:
    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/explosive-sex-abuse-lawsuit-against-vatican-dropped

    read the Vatican's response at:
    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/vatican-lawyers-statement-end-sex-abuse-case

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  2. The Confidentiality Agreement from Hell: (Or: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time)

    by Lewis Blayse, Commentary on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Australia)

    May 18, 2013 http://lewisblayse.net/2013/05/18/the-confidentiality-agreement-from-hell-or-fooling-some-of-the-people-all-of-the-time/

    Victim confidentiality agreements, demanded by the Catholic Church, and other organisations, remain a very real problem.

    It is a physical law that all things follow the path of least resistance. Lightning bolts going to the ground, and rivers wriggling to the sea, are examples of this principle. People tend, also, to follow this pattern. If there is any doubt about the enforceability of confidentiality clauses, people will tend to take the safer path of assuming they are valid constraints on them. Many will not take the chance of being sued by the church.

    The NSW enquiry into clerical child sexual abuse in the Newcastle district has revealed that a victim was made to sign a confidentiality agreement involving not only return of the compensation, but also with 10% annual interest on it, for any breach. Truly, this is a confidentiality agreement from hell.

    The attitude of the churches is given in the following opinion (see ref. 12, below): “Individuals have a fundamental right of contract, and the women who made these deals [concerning clerical abuses] took the money, promising to be quiet, then hurt the person whose silence the association thought it had bought. One can’t have it both ways. Either make the claim public, or take the money to be quiet. You can’t have both. A deal is a deal.”

    There have been cases in other countries where the Catholic Church has sued for disclosure of confidentiality agreement contents. For example, a Father Corapi sued his victim (see ref. 13, below). In another case, in New Jersey, when the man to be released from the confidentiality agreement, lawyers for the church threatened to sue him for the return of the seven-figure settlement and to seek financial damages on top of that if he spoke out. Eventually, the church sued the man’s lawyer for breaching the confidentiality agreement for disclosing the settlement amount (see ref. 17, below)

    There have also been a few cases where people have broken the agreement with no apparent consequences. In one U.S. case, the archdiocese had paid two brothers $20,000 each in a “confidential settlement” that required them to stay silent — but when they learned that the abuser was still working at the parish, they broke the confidentiality agreement and told their story (see ref. 19, below).

    In a Canadian case involving the Boy Scouts (see ref. 20, below), a former Toronto boy scout broke years of silence about a confidentiality agreement he signed with the Boy Scouts of Canada, saying he’d feel “victimized again” if he stayed mum on the secret deal. Like most of the victims who signed confidentiality agreements, he was forbidden from publicly disclosing the amount of the settlement or even that a settlement was reached. As the CBC-TV noted, the agreements may, “in the mind of a victim”, prevent them from mentioning the abuse to others, including police.

    In yet another U.S. case (see ref. 23, below), a victim of a Xavier Missionary Father, agreed to a confidentiality clause because he was promised the offender would be kept away from children. When he found out the offender was, in fact, still working with children, he broke the agreement to CBS news. He says he is “glad he broke the agreement”.

    In an Australian case, Bishop Michael Malone issued a formal apology to Peter Gogarty who accepted compensation of $30,000, on the condition he sign a confidentiality agreement. He has repeatedly breached this clause (see ref. 24, below).

    continued in next comment...

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  3. Legal opinion on the legitimacy of these agreements varies. Most agree that the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry, and the Royal Commission, can over-rule them. However, it is not clear if the victim is still liable for disclosures outside the confines of the enquiries. In this case, people will be forced to take the path of least resistance, which is exactly what the offending organisations will be hoping will happen.

    One victim, a Mr Alexander, has said he has sought different legal opinions on the matter with some lawyers saying there could be a conflict (see ref. 3, below). The Law Council of Australia is concerned that legal settlements signed by victims may prevent them from giving evidence at the Royal Commission. It says legislation may be needed to protect survivors who risk breaching old legal agreements. The Law Council of Australia’s Justin Dowd says that such agreements are binding (see ref. 5, below). Some indications have come from Catholic Church spokespersons that victims will need to apply for permission to have agreements waived (see ref. 25, below).

    Many other legal sources say that the agreements would not stand up in court for many diverse reasons.

    Since the agreements inhibit victims, it is not surprising that the churches try to cloud the issue. One spokesman has said (see ref. 4, below) that victims of clergy sexual abuse who signed confidentiality agreements with the Catholic Church as part of their settlements must apply to the church for permission to give evidence at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into church abuse.

    Back in 2002, Cardinal Pell gave this interview to Richard Carlton (see ref. 8, below):

    RICHARD CARLTON: If words have meaning Sir, you bought their silence or you sought to buy their silence, a realistic alternative to litigation that will otherwise be strenuously defended.

    GEORGE PELL: Yes if they want to go to law we will use the law to defend ourselves.

    RICHARD CARLTON: And you swear them to secrecy.

    GEORGE PELL: Well we ask them to keep . . .

    RICHARD CARLTON: You swear them, don’t ask them, you swear them.

    GEORGE PELL: There is a requirement that they don’t talk about it and most of them are happy not to and if they don’t want to use that they can do something else.

    RICHARD CARLTON: They can go to the courts.

    GEORGE PELL: Yes.

    RICHARD CARLTON: Why do you impose this condition Sir?

    GEORGE PELL: Because many of them don’t want to be subjected to publicity and of course it’s shameful for the Church.

    As Broken Rites’ researcher, Chris McIsaac, noted on the same programme: “The clause in the contract is ambiguous and most feel that in accepting and signing on the dotted line that they have to remain silent about anything that was told and spoken about within the process of going to the Commissioner and to the panel of the Pell process.”

    Cardinal Pell has changed his stance a little since then. Now, he is apparently against enforcing the agreements, but he still confuses the matter. It was widely reported that he would free people from the agreements. However, he later admitted that he can’t make anyone else tear up the agreements. As he frequently points out, he is not the head of the Catholic Church in Australia. He is merely the most senior clergyman.

    Sydney QC, John McCarthy, speaking on behalf of Pell, admitted that some bishops were still including secrecy clauses in compensation settlements to victims of sex abuse by church employees. Mr McCarthy confessed he was not aware of any communication between church authorities and independent lawyers engaged by dioceses to write deeds of release, which might have informed them of changes made in 2000 to the Towards Healing protocol (see ref. 10, below)

    continued in next comment...

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  4. The CEO of the Catholic Church’s PR Unit (set up to deal with the fall-out from the Royal Commission), Francis Sullivan (see previous posting), was also clear as mud about the issue (see ref. 2, below). He stated that: “Our principal position in this is that where confidentially clauses need to be waived, they will be waived.” The key word is “need” given that he was referring to possible requests by the Royal Commission for detail of agreements. Specifically, he said that “It will apply to all instances in which the Royal Commission seeks information on.” This is irrelevant given that the Royal Commission has the power to demand the documents.

    Poor Mr. Sullivan appears to have been kept out of the loop, just like the poor Mr. Elliot (see previous posting). When asked if he knew how many confidentiality agreements the Catholic Church has struck with victims, he relied that “No, I have no idea at the moment” and “I am not aware of any of the past activities”.

    Read more here:

    Ref. 2: http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2013/s3671045.htm

    Ref. 3: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/confidentiality-fears-for-child-abuse-royal-commission-20121115-29eps.html#ixzz2TZ3UnbP1

    Ref. 4: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/abuse-victims-fear-having-lost-the-right-to-testify-20120813-244y1.html#ixzz2TZ42IBFA

    Ref. 5: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2013/s3669843.htm

    Ref. 6: http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/healing-be-damned/556/

    Ref. 7: http://law.shu.edu/Students/academics/journals/law-review/Issues/archives/upload/Philp.pdf

    Ref. 8: http://www.abc.net.au/am/stories/s571482.htm

    Ref. 9: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s572435.htm

    Ref. 10: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/06/10/1022982819880.html

    Ref. 11: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/church-abuse-victims-deserve-compensation-without-strings-20100519-vem2.html#ixzz2TZOacARM

    Ref. 12: http://www.salon.com/2011/11/10/did_cains_accuser_act_ethically/

    Ref. 13: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/father-corapis-bombshell/#ixzz2TZQ7lXf9

    Ref. 14: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/church-abuse-scandal-tell-us-about-every-one-of-your-top-secret-deals-28524576.html

    Ref. 15: http://www.nj.com/morris/index.ssf/2012/11/delbarton_sues_attorney_claims.html

    Ref. 16: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/04/26/church.abuse.victims.lawyer/index.html

    Ref. 17: http://newjerseyhills.com/observer-tribune/news/delbarton-school-gets-heat-for-suit-against-former-mendham-resident/article_7871f994-3fbe-11e2-a67d-001a4bcf887a.html

    Ref. 18: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Transcripts/Phil_ODonnell_23-Jan-13.pdf

    Ref. 19: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2013/05/leroy_valentine_archdiocese_st_louis_sex_abuse.php

    Ref. 20: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/10/23/johnston-scouts-confidential-agreement.html

    Ref. 22: http://www.cleveland.com/abuse/index.ssf?/abuse/more/1015763400211260.html

    Ref. 23: http://blogs.alternet.org/cityofangelsonalternet/2010/04/23/he-breaks-confidentiality-agreement-and-story-of-pedophile-priest-goes-all-over-the-globe/

    Ref. 24: http://www.smh.com.au/national/when-healing-becomes-hell-on-earth-20100716-10e7b.html#ixzz2TZniC6iU

    Ref. 25: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/churchs-crimes-must-be-punished/story-e6frfhqf-1226463450607#

    TOMORROW: What can be done about confidentiality clauses?

    ReplyDelete