List of Priests Accused of Abuses Faces Disclosure
ST. LOUIS (CN) - The Missouri Supreme Court ordered the St. Louis Archdiocese to reveal the names of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minor and names of the victims.
The order comes in a 2011 lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Court by a 19-year-old woman named only as Jane Doe 92.
Doe said she had been abused by the Rev. Joseph Ross from 1997 to 2001 at St. Cronan's Church in St. Louis. She alleged that the archdiocese assigned Ross to that church after his 1988 guilty plea to the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old boy and his enrollment in a program for sexual disorders at the St. Luke Institute.
Ross was defrocked in 2002, but Doe said the archdiocese kept the truth about Ross in the dark.
As part of the woman's suit, the archdiocese released an anonymous matrix of 240 complaints made against 115 church employees over a 20-year period ending in 2003. It was not clear from the list how many of the 115 were priests.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker deemed the anonymous list insufficient and ordered release of the names of the priests and victims on Dec. 31, 2013. Dierker stipulated, however, that a court-appointed attorney, rather the plaintiff's attorneys, would contact the victims.
His order was stayed as the archdiocese appealed to the state's high court. A full panel of judges with the Missouri Supreme Court sided with Dierker and dissolved its earlier stay Wednesday.
The names of victims will remain sealed, and the list will be provided only to Doe's lawyers.
Ken Chackes, an attorney for the woman, said in an interview the ruling will allow the plaintiff's attorneys to investigate background that could expose a pattern of the archdiocese shifting priests to different congregations after abuse allegations surfaced.
Establishing a pattern is especially essential in this particular case because of Ross' continued presence in the church after a previous guilty plea and treatment, Chackes said.
Obtaining the list could prove through previous cases that the diocese knew that priests were susceptible to reoffending even after going through treatment, Chackes added.
The Archdiocese told the Post-Dispatch in statement that it fought the release "to protect the privacy rights of all involved, including victims who had no connection to current litigation and who had come forth confidentially regarding their reported allegation. The requested information includes not only names, but also addresses and phone numbers."
The statement continued: "We appreciate the concern given this case throughout the appellate process, and although we share the disappointment of the many innocent individuals who will be affected by it, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will comply with the court order entered by the Missouri Supreme Court."
Chackes, who has represented a number of church abuse victims, said this was the first time a case of his had reached this point in discovery where a judge ruled on the name list request. Previously, cases had either been settled or dismissed before this point.
"I think the ruling makes is much more difficult for religious institutions to keep their secrets," Chackes told Courthouse News. "And it will make it more difficult for religious institutions to enable pedophiles to hurt children."