Mobile Archdiocese again tries to block priest from answering sexual-abuse questions


Mobile Archdiocese again tries to block priest from answering sexual-abuse questions

With a new judge now hearing the case, attorneys for the Archdiocese of Mobile have renewed efforts to block a priest from answering questions under oath about a past relationship with a teenager.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart on March 27 rejected the church’s arguments that statements about the decade-old relationship involving the Rev. Johnny Savoie are protected by attorney-client privilege and that an internal investigation into the matter is protected under evidentiary rules holding that lawyers are not compelled to turn over their “work product” to opposing attorneys.

Several lawsuits alleging that St. Puis X School officials tolerated — and in some cases participated in — bullying of students have been consolidated in front of special Judge Braxton Kittrell. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore appointed the retired judge after Presiding Mobile County Circuit Judge Charles Graddick recused all of the sitting judges from the case.

David Kennedy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he is confident that Kittrell with keep Stewart’s ruling in place.

“It’s just the same old request ruled on multiple times,” he said Friday.

Lawyers for the defendants argued in a court filing this week that the current lawsuit has nothing to do with allegations that Savoie — when he was a priest at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Fairhope — had a sexual relationship with a teenager. Savoie is pastor of the St. Pius X parish but has no day-to-day administrative responsibilities at the school.

Likewise, the attorneys argue, the Rev. James Cink — the director of the Office of Child Protection for the Archdiocese of Mobile — has no role in disciplinary actions at the school.

“To allow the depositions of Father Savoie and Father Cink to proceed any further as to this topic would be to allow the Plaintiffs to harass and embarrass (Savoie) without the reasonable anticipation that any evidence or testimony discovered would be admissible or relevant to the Plaintiffs’ claims in this matter,” the attorneys wrote.

Savoie disclosed the allegation to his congregation last year. The archdiocese hired a private investigator and a polygraph expert and then turned over the results of the probe to the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Hallie Dixon previously has said that she closed the case after determining that the teenager was old enough to legally consent.

“Importantly, the individual who made the report has absolutely has no connection whatsoever to any alleged instances of bullying, injuries, or other occurrences at St. Pius X School,” the defense lawyers wrote. “As already mentioned above, the report at issue relates to a time nearly a decade ago, during Father Savoie’s tenure at an unrelated parish in Baldwin County that does not have a school — St. Lawrence Parish.”

Kennedy, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, disputed defense characterizations of the civil complaint as allegations of only student-on-student bullying.

“That’s not the case,” he said. “We have alleged abuse at the hands of adults at St. Pius, as well, which is a pretty important distinction.”

Kennedy said that Savoie, as pastor, bears ultimate responsibility over what takes place at the school.

“It’s an ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand kind of thing,” he said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called on Archbishop Thomas Rodi to at least allow Savoie to testify if he will not suspend him.

“Shame on Mobile Archbishop Thomas Rodi for spending parishioners’ donations to keep secrets about an accused predator priest,” the group’s outreach director, Barbara Dorris, said in a prepared statement. “Rodi and his top aides are being incredibly risky and callous.”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called on Archbishop Thomas Rodi to at least allow Savoie to testify if he will not suspend him.

“Shame on Mobile Archbishop Thomas Rodi for spending parishioners’ donations to keep secrets about an accused predator priest,” the group’s outreach director, Barbara Dorris, said in a prepared statement. “Rodi and his top aides are being incredibly risky and callous. They’re violating the official national Catholic church abuse policy. And they are putting kids at risk of horrific pain.”

http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2015/06/mobile_archdiocese_again_tries.html

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