While the law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young is not a named defendant in eight civil lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege sexual abuse by Catholic priests, some of the complaints claim that the law firm assisted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in efforts to conceal sexual misconduct by its clergy.
William R. Sasso, chairman of the firm, said in an interview that “the statements they made are nonsense and totally false,” and the firm will investigate if the statements are outside the privilege accorded to court filings.
The complaints claim that a list compiled in 1994 by the archdiocese’s then-personnel director for priests, Monsignor William J. Lynn, of 35 priests — accused of committing sexual abuse — was withheld by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, its agents and the law firm of Stradley Ronon.
Sasso said that “we never had the list and all the testimony before the grand jury confirms that.”
“Nor was there ever an allegation we had the list,” Sasso added.
The complaints allege that the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered that the list be shredded because a handwritten note from the late Monsignor James E. Molloy “described the cardinal ordering that the list be shredded, which was done by Molloy, and witnessed by Joseph R. Cistone,” who is now bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich.
The list had been ordered shredded by Bevilacqua and was not available during two prior investigating grand juries, The Legal previously reported. Even though a list was apparently left in a safe that was cracked open in 2006, the list was not turned over to prosecutors until earlier this year.
Stradley Ronon “assisted the defendants in enabling the sexual abuse of children and concealing both the sexual misconduct of priests and the coordinated efforts to conceal that sexual misconduct,” the complaints allege.
“The strategy developed by Stradley Ronon to assist in the concealment of sexual abuse of children was to protect the archdiocese, first and foremost, with no disclosure of the long history of the defendants facilitating the abuse of children,” the complaints allege.
The complaints also allege that the late Bevilacqua directed “that deliberate misrepresentations” were made to parishioners about priests removed because of alleged sexual abuse and that Stradley Ronon “assisted the cardinal in maintaining that strategy of deception.”
The complaints also allege that when alleged victims, upon seeking assistance from the archdiocese, signed releases for medical, military and other records that the records were turned over to legal counsel, including Stradley Ronon, and used to “build the defense that the statute of limitations had expired on the victim’s claim.”
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by attorneys Daniel F. Monahan of Malvern, Chester County; Marci A. Hamilton of Washington Crossing, Bucks County; and Jeffrey R. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn.
The plaintiffs in the eight lawsuits are Michael Dale, Andrew Druding, Michael W. McDonnell, five John Does and one Jane Doe.
The defendants are the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of the diocese from 2003 to 2011; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the current archbishop of the archdiocese; and Lynn, who was convicted this summer by a jury of endangering the welfare of a 10-year-old abused by Avery and who Lynn recommended for his clerical assignment; as well as the priests the plaintiffs allege abused them and the schools the plaintiffs attended.
Dale alleges he was abused by former priest Edward V. Avery in the 1970s, who pled guilty to the first-degree felony of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse for sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy, D.G. The priest also pled guilty to the third-degree felony of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children for conspiring with church officials to conceal his history of sexual abuse from Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia parishioners.
Lynn was convicted by a jury this summer of endangering the welfare of D.G. but acquitted of conspiring to endanger the welfare of D.G. The Legal does not name victims in the context of criminal cases of child sex abuse.
Druding alleges that he was abused by Francis S. Feret, one of the complaints said.
McDonnell alleges that he was abused by Francis X. Trauger and John P. Schmeer, one of the complaints said.
Dale’s complaint alleges that Stradley Ronon communicated with a Delaware County prosecutor about Dale’s August 2007 report about alleged abuse by Avery, and the firm “withheld information that defendant Avery had since 1994 been considered by the archdiocese as guilty of sexual misconduct with minors” as well as the known history of complaints about Avery.
Sasso said that allegation seems to refer to the list Lynn generated in 1994.
“We had two grand juries investigating this list and it never came up,” Sasso said. “This is a fabrication.”
While Hamilton said during the press conference announcing the complaints that it was a sign of the alleged ongoing cover-up that the list did not get produced until the archdiocese replaced Stradley Ronon as its outside counsel with new firms, Sasso said that “there was no conspiracy and I can’t answer Marci Hamilton’s insinuations because there was no conspiracy.”
During an interview with The Legal, Hamilton alleged that Stradley Ronon’s “role in vetting victims and victims’ cases … was far more than simple legal advice.”
The other unnamed plaintiffs allege that Robert L. Brennan, Joseph Gallagher, John H. Mulholland or Schmeer abused them.
The complaints allege that the statute of limitations are tolled because of fraudulent concealment or because of conspiracy.
The archdiocese said in a statement that it has not yet received copies of the cases.
“We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse,” the archdiocese continued in its statement. “We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance.”
The archdiocese also pointed out that all the priest defendants are either out of ministry, found unsuitable for ministry, remain on administrative leave, have been laicized, or have accepted a “supervised life of prayer and penance.”
Avery is no longer a priest because he was laicized, Brennan has been out of ministry since January 2006, Feret was found unsuitable for ministry in May, Gallagher remains on administrative leave, Mulholland was laicized in August 2008, Schmeer has accepted a “supervised life of prayer and penance,” and Trauger was laicized in 2005, the archdiocese said in a statement.