It has been a week of starts and stops for Ken Chackes, the attorney representing Jane Doe, a young woman who claims she was sexually abused in the late 1990s and early 2000s at the hands of the now de-frocked priest Father Joseph Ross.
Last week the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker demanding that the St. Louis Archdiocese turn over to Chackes and the victim, now in her early twenties, the names of 115 of its employees accused of molesting children from 1983 to 2003. But the ruling was fleeting. On Monday the archdiocese won a stay from the Missouri Supreme Court that, at best, will further delay the release of the names or, at worst, ensure they remain a secret as the Church desires.
But even if the names of the accused and the victims are turned over, it's unclear what impact they'll have at trial.
For one, the "matrix" of sex allegations that the archdiocese wanted to keep under wraps (but which sneaked out as part of its appellate filing), is incredibly vague even with the inclusion of names. Secondly, the archdiocese's cat-and-mouse game in court -- with Dierker threatening to charge the archdiocese with contempt for dragging its feet -- has already cost Chackes and his client precious time for discovery. The trial is slated to begin in a scant five weeks on February 24.
"[The matrix] answers questions as to the number of people reporting cases to the archdiocese, but it also leaves a lot questions unanswered," notes Chackes. "It's going to require a lot more digging to be able to present a full picture at trial of the nature of the complaints and how they were handled."
Chackes notes that the matrix (on display for your perusal on the following page) simply lists all 234 complaints made between 1983 and 2003 as "alleged sexual abuse of a minor" or "alleged inappropriate conduct" without providing any more details. Moreover, it's often impossible to tell who received the complaints with "archdiocese" often listed as the point person. All the more confusing is the outcome of the allegations. The archdiocese claims that it found 39 of the allegations to be "unsubstantiated." And while the archdiocese's spreadsheet indicates that police and Department of Family Services were notified of some allegations, it's unclear what became of other complaints, for example those in which the archdiocese "made a report" or "referred to religious order."
Jane Doe and Chackes need this information in order to demonstrate that their case was part of a pattern wherein the archdiocese shifted accused priests from one parish to another in reckless disregard of what could happen. Father Ross, for what it's worth, was assigned to St. Cronan's Church in south St. Louis after admitting he molested a boy in the 1980s while at Christ the King Church in University City. Moreover, he's accused of telling the alleged victim at St. Cronan's that she was helping him overcome his sexuality because he "liked boys more than girls."
Per Judge Dierker's ruling, should Chackes and his client get the names of other alleged victims, they could only contact them through an intermediary. That process would further delay discovery, but it's a start. Better, says Chackes, would be for the archdiocese to simply turn over its full reports as requested.
The archdiocese didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story, but given its actions throughout the case, it seems a pipe dream that the church would start cooperating with the plaintiff now.
Says Chackes of the fast-approaching trial: "We will need more cooperation from the archdiocese." Continue on for a view inside the "matrix"....
Note: There seems to be some problems with the third-party provider RFT used to upload the matrix. We are working to resolve the issue.
Download a copy or click the link for a larger view.
Follow Chad Garrison on Twitter @chadgarrison. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.