The Oregonian

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Portland Archdiocese has lost its mind.

As if determined to prove it has learned nothing from past sins, and those of its priests, the archdiocese is demanding that a new group claiming to be victims of clergy abuse should be compelled to abandon their pseudonyms and go public with their identities.

Only last June, Catholic Archbishop John Vlazny apologized for the burdens carried by "the victims of sexual abuse" and conceded, "By our reluctance to bring light to this great darkness, we as a people have sinned."

The time for penance and reconciliation, apparently, has ended. This legal maneuver is an exasperating move to bully these plaintiffs and intimidate future ones.

The bankruptcy reorganization plan, approved in April, called for more than $50 million in payments to approximately 175 abuse victims, and set aside an additional $20 million to pay for future claims.

In August, attorney Kelly Clark — who represented many of the earlier plaintiffs — said six new victims had come forward, alleging sexual and physical abuse by nuns, priests and an All Saints Parish janitor, primarily dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

"The bankruptcy plan referred future cases to the federal district court," said Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "Federal district court rules state that a person use their name when suing, except in exceptional cases. We’re saying they (the new complainants) need to follow district court rules."

Ah, but that’s not all the archdiocese is saying. In a September court filing, the archdiocese insists that even if one of the new plaintiffs asks to "proceed under pseudonym," the court should deny his request.

Pseudonyms are permitted only when "anonymity is necessary to protect the person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment," the archdiocese argues, and claims of child abuse and sexual abuse don’t qualify, particularly when the abused "is a 65-year-old adult who claims that he were (sic) harmed by a priest approximately 56 years ago."

Clark is stunned by this argument. There are numerous reasons, he said, why adult victims of childhood abuse want to maintain their anonymity: "I have one guy whose 83-year-old mother doesn’t know about his abuse, and he doesn’t want her to know." Another client believes disclosure of his identity would prevent him from re-engaging with a Catholic community.

"This is just about outing these people," Clark said. "They have to know this is going to hurt people."

Why is this move so malicious? Because the archdiocese already knows the identities of those bringing suit. "We give them addresses and Social Security numbers," Clark added.

The Catholic Church would have us believe that unless those names are public, the archdiocese can’t effectively "gather information from third-parties about plaintiff and the factual allegations underlying his claims."

That’s absurd. Even Bunce admits media outlets won’t publish the names anyway. And the church already has discovery power to fact-check these accusations. "They take depositions from everyone in my client’s life," Clark said. "Eventually they’re going to get around to his 83-year-old mother."

Court papers make clear the archdiocese is upset the plaintiff "shared his lawsuit with the media," claiming that "intentional publicity launch" nullifies any concern for anonymity.

And so the church is lashing out in self-destructive fury. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. When you lose your mind and sell your soul, all that remains is a spleen.

Steve Duin: 503-221-8597; 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201 steveduin@news.oregonian.com http://blog.oregonlive.com/steveduin