June 8, 2007
Church releases sex abuse documents
The Archdiocese of Portland has released the first installment of documents concerning priests who sexually abused children, an unprecedented move that church officials hope will help victims heal and be reconciled with the faith.
But lawyers for abuse victims question whether the archdiocese will provide a full accounting of what church leaders knew, when they knew it and what they did or didn’t do to prevent it.
The document release was made unilaterally, without public notice and without any index or guide to help the public understand the content, said Portland lawyer Kelly Clark, who represented more than 100 abuse victims in lawsuits against the archdiocese.
He said abuse victims insisted, as part of the church’s bankruptcy settlement plan, that the records be revealed. However, he said church lawyers earlier had indicated that they would collaborate with victims’ lawyers to produce an orderly compilation of documents.
The archdiocese late Wednesday posted more than 30 unnamed computer files, each containing numerous documents. The material originally appeared in a court document filed by a victim’s attorney seeking punitive damages in one of the many lawsuits that triggered the archdiocese’s bankruptcy, Clark said. The material was the first batch of records that both sides could agree to release, but the sides never met to discuss what else would be released, when and in what form, he said.
Archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said there should be no surprise in the manner or timing of the release, as it was part of an agreement made by Archbishop John Vlazny.
"The archbishop agreed to that. He is following through on what he agreed to do," Bunce said.
The documents are the only ones so far approved for release by all attorneys involved. Bunce said some lawyers have asked for more time to review documents with their clients before more records are released. He said he does not know what other records may be forthcoming or when.
The records released Wednesday are difficult to interpret or put into context of the church’s overall response to abuse.
For example, records concerning one of the most notorious abusers, the late Rev. Maurice Grammond, include portions of depositions prepared for the trial that indirectly discuss abuse or how parents became aware of it.
Another file documents numerous allegations against the Rev. Aldo Orso-Manzonetta spanning more than a decade. In a June 2, 1994, letter to Ridgecrest Associates, a Tigard center hired by the church to do a psychological evaluation of the priest, the Rev. Charles Lienert writes, "I have some serious concern because of the number of allegations which have been made. These records are discoverable should someone choose to sue us."
Lienert’s name appears as the official documenting the complaints about Aldo for a period of 11 years, beginning in 1983.
In one memo dated May 26, 1992 – summarizing a conversation with another priest, the Rev. Mort Park, about Aldo’s relationship with a young man that had caused several Tillamook parishioners to express concern – Lienert writes: "Father Park asked whether he should do anything about it. I told him that he should not and asked him not to talk to Father Aldo or anyone else about our conversation. He said that he certainly understood that."
Even if the church posted all of its personnel records about abusive priests, the public would not know the whole story about a church cover-up, said David Slader, a Portland lawyer who represented more than 50 abuse victims in lawsuits.
Slader said he has reviewed the records and has spoken to people who said they reported abuse directly to the bishop in charge at the time of the abuse. Yet no record of their reports exists in church personnel files, Slader said.
"It was clear the archdiocese, over many years, did not keep a record of disclosures that priests were molesting children, or they were destroying records," Slader said. "Which is worse? I don’t know."
He said the lack of records about molestation is a stark contrast to records that remain in priest personnel files covering such mundane matters as vacations and fender-bender accidents.
"The documents themselves will never tell the full story because there was a concerted effort to keep the full story from ever being told," Slader said. "The records themselves will always be incomplete."
Bill Crane, the Oregon director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the way the documents were released is a deliberate attempt to confuse and conceal.
"In 2007, it’s no different than how the church handled things in 1977. It couldn’t be any clearer," Crane said. "This whole (abuse prevention) policy thing is a big pacifier for the parishioners and the public."