Crusaders or Opportunists? Lawyers on Both Sides of the Catholic Church Scandal Involving Child Sexual Abuse by Clergy Explain Why They Are Vigorously Prosecuting-Or Defending-The Church. (Nation: Child Abuse)

Article excerpt

If ever there was justification for unleashing the law's hounds of hell, complicity in harming a child is it. Few are sympathizing with the church hierarchy who looked the other way from the pedophilia and pederasty in their midst. But it is the faithful who are being asked to pay millions for the sins of the fathers, and innocent children who must bear the scars. So INSIGHT recently found two of the most active advocates to square off in separate interviews on the issue of the more than 200 sexual-abuse lawsuits targeting the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The legal fallout from the sexual-abuse scandals currently threatening Catholic archdioceses around the country soon may be large enough to bankrupt them. And the frenzy shows little sign of abating--next in the crosshairs as these scandals grow, say critics, will be the Protestant churches.

"I brought one of the first cases in the U.S. against the Catholic Church involving child sexual molestation" Minnesota attorney Jeffrey Anderson of Reinhardt and Anderson tells INSIGHT. "Since that time [1983] I've handled over 1,000 cases of child sexual molestation by various religious organizations. Over 600 of them were Catholic clergy."

Anderson has made a career of suing large and powerful institutions. For 26 years he has been an activist lawyer specializing in civil rights, he says, "So, I've sued governments. I've sued powerful institutions" But of late his cases mostly have involved sexual abuse by clergy. As if reciting basketball statistics, he rattles off the denominations against which he has litigated: six cases against the Mormons in Salt Lake City and Port land, Ore.; five cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses in New Hampshire and Washington state; 25 cases against the Lutherans; 12 cases against the Episcopalians; 20 against the Baptists; 10 against the Methodists; and on it goes.

About the only denomination Anderson hasn't sued yet is the Scientologists. "I have deferred the Scientologists to others," he quips.

But the apparent problems of paternalism, sexism and the failure to protect children is particularly acute with Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, according to Anderson, "because of their hierarchical nature." The culture of a male-only hierarchy, he says, contributes to secrecy and protection of molesters.

One of the lawyers most frequently called upon to defend accused clergy is another Minnesotan, Andrew Eisenzimmer, a member of the law corporation Meier, Kennedy and Quinn. "It's certainly been a struggle over these last few years dealing with these cases, but it's given me the opportunity to do some things that other people haven't done before and to deal with an area where there were no [previous] answers" he tells INSIGHT.

Eisenzimmer has squared off against Anderson and other plaintiffs' lawyers in clergy-abuse cases both in court and in out-of-court settlements. He claims a dozen cases and expresses skepticism about Anderson's claim of 600 against the Catholic Church alone, though he describes Anderson as a very competent and able lawyer. "I think, unfortunately, such statistics may be thrown around with little attempt at clarification" he says. Eisenzimmer sighs at the multifaith litigations of Anderson's firm: "So they're equal-opportunity plaintiff's lawyers. They'll certainly go where the cases are."

Anderson responds to Eisenzimmer's point that the Catholic Church only has 200 dioceses in the United States with the clarification, "I've sued several dioceses several times. And in some cases I've represented as many as 25 victims in one case."

According to Patrick Scully, spokesman for the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 215 priests from the nation's 17,000 parishes have been removed for sexual abuse since January.

Legally pursuing the Catholic Church is far more lucrative numbers-wise, Eisenzimmer indicates. …