An advocacy group that has relentlessly pressured Catholic leaders to reveal the scope of sex abuse in the church has been ordered to disclose records to a priest's defense lawyers that could include years of emails with victims, journalists and others.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has so far failed to block the ruling by a judge, which requires the organization to produce the documents and also allows defense attorneys to depose the network's national director, David Clohessy, on Tuesday. The Missouri Press Association has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the order is unconstitutional.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ann Mesle said Clohessy must comply because he "almost certainly has knowledge concerning issues relevant to this litigation."
Mesle issued the order in one of five abuse lawsuits against the Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe, B.P., said he was 13 when Tierney attacked and molested him in the 1970s. All attorneys involved in Tierney's case are under a gag order.
Defense lawyers sought the documents as evidence that the accuser's attorney, Rebecca Randles, violated the gag order by giving details of the case to the Survivors Network. The defense claims the group then printed the information in a press release. Tierney has previously denied any wrongdoing. Last June, the diocese barred him from any public church work and from presenting himself as a priest.
Under the ruling, the network must produce all documents or correspondence relating to Tierney, the diocese, any priest currently or formerly associated with the diocese, the Survivors Network communication with the plaintiff and any documents related to repressed memory. The plaintiff in the lawsuit said he had repressed memories of the assault for years. The National Catholic Reporter, an independent publication that has spearheaded investigative coverage of clergy abuse, was first to report the order for the documents Friday.
In a statement, Clohessy called the defense request "a bullying effort" that invades victims' privacy. He said the order was so broad that it could require him to produce documents involving whistleblowers, victims, parishioners, parents and journalists in other cases with no direct connection to Tierney or the diocese.
"We are going to take every possible legal step to prevent the disclosure of information concerning SNAP members and supporters, including those who have been sexually abused," said Jeff Jensen, Clohessy's attorney.
The Missouri Press Association wrote in its brief that the disclosure would "irrevocably harm the news-gathering process, chill speech by both the news media and potential sources and significantly affect the quality of investigative reporting in the state."