Gag Order on Abuse Victims LiftedApr 25, 2002 | AP The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has freed sex abuse victims from any legal promises they made to remain silent about their cases and the priests they accused.
"Victims are no longer gagged," said District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, who announced the decision after receiving a letter from archdiocesan lawyer James McCabe.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, confirmed Wednesday that any victim who agreed not to talk as part of a civil settlement in a case involving a priest would no longer be bound by that promise.
"In an attempt to cooperate with the district attorneys, we have voluntarily released people from the confidentiality agreements," he said.
In the past, the church has settled some sex abuse lawsuits with payments on the condition that victims not talk about the case. Such agreements "prevented victims from sharing any information about the sexual abuse and even the name of the abuser," Pirro said. "These are settled cases where there has been a finding of fault and I wanted very much to have the ability to talk with victims."
Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented alleged victims of priest sex abuse in Boston, said, "It's a very important step in preventing child abuse from occurring in the future and helping the victims regain some sort of dignity."
He said confidentiality agreements were "a way of revictimizing the victim, of silencing the victim unnecessarily and making the victim feel further guilt."
Jeffrey Anderson, a Minneapolis lawyer who has represented victims of sexual abuse involving Catholic priests for 20 years, said, "This would be the first clear and definitive relinquishment by a prelate of the confidentiality or gag provisions in settlements."
Other dioceses, he said, "have suggested they won't enforce them, but that's not exactly a proclamation."
Elsewhere in the child-molestation scandal that has rocked the nation's Catholic church:
_ Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said she will convene a grand jury to investigate allegations of priest sex abuse and the response of church officials. She said church officials have agreed to turn over records on priests accused of abuse, whether they are "dead, dismissed or retired."
_ In Providence, R.I., attorneys for victims of alleged sexual abuse said they have asked a judge to schedule some of their cases for trial this fall after failing to settle with the Diocese of Providence. Thirty-eight lawsuits have been filed against the diocese, alleging abuse by 11 priests and one nun.
_ The head of the Roman Catholic diocese in Long Island, N.Y., appointed a former police commissioner to handle sex abuse allegations against priests. Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese also added non-Catholics to two investigative panels for the first time.
_ A former bishop in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., was twice accused of sexual misconduct with boys while he was a priest in Kansas City in 1969 and the early 1970s. In a written statement, Father Joseph Hart said the allegations — made in 1989 and 1992 — were false. Hart retired in September at age 70. Both allegations in Missouri were handled before Rush became vicar general of Kansas City in 1994.