Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ASHBEL S. GREEN

Lawsuit – The Portland archdiocese wants new accusers to reveal their names after alerting the media

A historic bankruptcy settlement reached six months ago did not end the bitterness between the Archdiocese of Portland and those who say they were the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Federal court documents filed by the archdiocese say that a new group of priest accusers have no right to file lawsuits under pseudonyms after providing the media with advance copies of their claims to try to seek wide exposure of their accusations.

"This calculated, public disclosure, timed to maximize its effectiveness in generating a news story before the archdiocese could respond to a lawsuit filing, deprives plaintiff of any valid claim about a need for privacy," the papers say.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs counter that church officials have abandoned "pastoral compassion" and are playing hardball with the victims of child sex abuse.

"The only logical conclusion drawn from defendants’ demand that plaintiff(s) use his real name is that the defendant wishes to intimidate, embarrass, or discourage plaintiff from continuing with this lawsuit, or to punish plaintiff by making this experience as painful for plaintiff as possible," court papers say.

The bankruptcy settlement approved in April provided more than $50 million for about 175 people who claimed they were sexually abused by priests and other church officials in western Oregon during the past half century.

The settlement also set aside about $20 million for accusers who came forward later.

During a joint appearance, Archbishop John G. Vlazny, parishioners and attorneys for the plaintiffs said the settlement would allow healing to begin.

"It is my sincere prayer that our ability to compensate the many victims will assist them in their efforts to find personal healing and peace of heart," Vlazny said.

Kelly Clark, a lead plaintiffs’ attorney, praised the agreement for including the release of secret files documenting the abuse.

"Secret archives of secret crimes and secret shame will be made public for the community to see and understand," he said.

In August, a handful of accusers filed suits seeking compensation from the $20 million "future claims" fund.

In response, court papers filed by the archdiocese accuse the plaintiffs of coordinating with the media by providing advanced copies of the lawsuits.

"Plaintiff was obviously manipulating the media to get a ‘head start’ in the court of public opinion," court papers say.

Archdiocese attorneys say federal rules usually prohibit the use of pseudonyms.

Clark filed papers opposing the public release of names, which he said are known to attorneys for the archdiocese.

"My clients view this as a betrayal of everything the archbishop has said about caring for child abuse survivors and a callous attempt to intimidate them," he said in a written statement.

A judge will rule on the archdiocese request unless the two sides settle the dispute.

Ashbel Green: 503-221-8202: tonygreen@news.oregonian.com