Where's the Media? L.A. Att'y Declares Many Abuse Accusations Against Catholic Priests Are 'Entirely False'

In a stunning ten-page declaration recently submitted to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, veteran attorney Donald H. Steier stated that his investigations into claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have uncovered vast fraud and that his probes have revealed that many accusations are completely false.

Counselor Steier has played a role in over one hundred investigations involving Catholic clergy in Los Angeles.In his missive Mr. Steier relayed, "One retired F.B.I. agent who worked with me to investigate many claims in the Clergy Cases told me, in his opinion, about ONE-HALF of the claims made in the Clergy Cases were either entirely false or so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse" (capital letters are his).

Mr. Steier also added, "In several cases my investigation has provided objective information that could not be reconciled with the truthfulness of the subjective allegations. In other words, in many cases objective facts showed that accusations were false."

Mr. Steier's declaration is a stunner. He is as experienced as anyone in studying the claims of abuse against Catholic clergy in the Los Angeles area. Also among Steier's eye-opening statements:

  • "I have had accused priest clients take polygraph examinations performed by very experienced former law enforcement experts, including from L.A.P.D., the Sheriff Department, and F.B.I. In many cases the examinations showed my clients' denial of wrongdoing was 'truthful,' and in those cases I offered in writing to the accuser to undergo a similar polygraph examination at my expense. In every case the accuser refused to have his veracity tested by that investigative tool, which is routinely used by intelligence agencies."
  • "I am aware of several plaintiffs who testified that they realized that they had been abused only after learning that some other person - sometimes a relative - had received a financial settlement from the Archdiocese or another Catholic institution."
  • "In my investigation of many cases, I have seen the stories of some accusers change significantly over time, sometimes altering years, locations, and what activity was alleged - in every case, the changes seemed to have enabled or enhanced claims against my clients, or drastically increased alleged damages."
  • "I am aware that false memories can also be planted or created by various psychological processes, including by therapists who might be characterized as 'sexual victim advocates,' if not outright charlatans."
  • "Most of the approximately seven hundred psychiatric 'Certificates of Merit' filed in these Clergy Cases, as required by [California] Code of Civil Procedure § 340.1, were signed by the same therapist." (!) (Note: A "Certificate of Merit" from "a licensed mental health practitioner" is required in California before filing an abuse lawsuit.)

Steier signed and submitted the declaration "under penalty of perjury" November 30, 2010. Los Angeles County Superior Court officially filed it at 11 a.m. on December 15, 2010. (Images of Steier's declaration: pages 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10.)

Steier also took aim at the outspoken advocacy group SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests):

They maintain an interactive Internet website with a user 'Forum' and 'Message Board,' among other features, where people can share detailed information between alleged victims pertaining to identity of specific alleged perpetrators, their alleged 'modus operandi,' and other details of alleged molestation. In effect, a person who wanted to make a false claim of sexual abuse by a priest could go to that website and find a 'blueprint' of factual allegations to make that would coincide with allegations made by other people. Law enforcement also uses the S.N.A.P. website to attempt to locate new victims and allegations against Catholic priests.

Needless to say, SNAP had a fit at the sight of Steier's declaration. In a frantic press statement dated December 13, 2010, SNAP derided Steier's declaration as a "legal maneuver" that was "among the most outrageous and hurtful ever made by a church defense lawyer." In addition to claiming it will file a complaint with the California Bar Association, it demanded that Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony "denounce Steier's claims and to disclose how much archdiocesan money has been paid to Steier." (Gee, the last time I checked, SNAP steadfastly refused to divulge how much of its income is derived from the number of lawyers with whom it closely collaborates!)

Yet there is a glaring absence from SNAP's statement. The organization does not refute nor deny any of the specific claims made by Steier. It simply labels them as "outrageous" and "hurtful." That is hardly a blow to the explosive declaration aired by the veteran attorney.

Yes, Catholic priests terribly abused minors, and bishops failed to stop the harm. That's an undeniable truth. There are few crimes that revolt more than sexual abuse. The abuse of minors is a dark episode that the Church will forever have to live with.

Yet major media outlets have largely ignored a major element to the entire Catholic abuse scandal narrative.

Here is Wall Street Journal writer Dorothy Rabinowitz:

"People have to come to understand that there is a large scam going on with personal injury attorneys, and what began as a serious effort has now expanded to become a huge money-making proposition."

Surprise: Ms. Rabinowitz made her remark in 2005. Since then, the Church has doled out an additional $1 billion in settlements.

Will 2011 be the year that the media finally begins to take a closer look at many of the claims being made? What about the suspicious relationships between SNAP, lawyers, and many in the media? (Vincent Carroll at the Denver Post is a rare voice of acknowledgement: "[F]raudulent or highly dubious accusations are more common than is acknowledged in coverage of the church scandals — although they should not be surprising, given the monumental settlements various dioceses have paid out over the years" (Oct. 10, 2010).)

Stay tuned.

-- Dave Pierre is the author of the heralded book, Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church and the author of TheMediaReport.com.

Dave Pierre
Dave Pierre is a contributing writer to NewsBusters and the creator of TheMediaReport.com.