Lawyer for Church Says He Hid His Own Sexual Abuse by Priest
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
copied from the new york times newspaper
For five years, Robert P. Scamardo defended the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston against lawsuits by people who claimed to have been sexually abused by priests.
As general counsel, he vigorously resisted accusers, he said, fending off their lawsuits and collaborating with church officials to send them away quietly, with as little money as possible.
He said he felt good about his job until one negotiating session with a gray-haired woman who said, through tears, that the molesting she suffered long ago was still causing her depression, marital strife and sexual problems. ''You can't possibly understand,'' she insisted.
Mr. Scamardo said he desperately wanted to tell her, ''Yes, I do.''
Of the thousands of people who have fought the church over sexual abuse charges, Mr. Scamardo is the only one known to have fought from both sides.
While representing the church as a trusted insider, Mr. Scamardo said, he was secretly struggling to cope with his own sexual abuse as a teenager by a priest and a lay youth minister. The conflict between his inner and outer selves brought anguish, thoughts of suicide and finally a confrontation with the diocese. When he sought compensation from the church as an abuse victim this year, he came up against a bishop and lawyers aggressively guarding church assets.
In an interview in Houston, Mr. Scamardo provided a window into how church lawyers worked to deter lawsuits, minimize the church's payouts, limit coverage for therapy and keep any settlements secret.
It was always the church, he said, that insisted on inserting confidentiality clauses in the settlements -- never the victims, as many bishops have contended. He said that while the eruption of the scandal last year had made bishops more likely to express compassion toward victims, the church's lawyers were still playing hardball behind the scenes.
And he said he was certain there were many more abusive priests and victims than have become public.
Mr. Scamardo said he left his post when the dissonance between his past and his present became so unbearable he began to think of suicide. Three weeks ago, after months of wrangling, he signed a financial settlement with the Diocese of Austin, where he said the abuse occurred.
''If they're playing the game with me like that this year, then nothing has changed,'' Mr. Scamardo said.
Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin declined to give an interview, but said in a statement: ''I deeply regret any pain Mr. Scamardo may have suffered and pray that he will know God's healing. While we cannot change the past, the diocese has established extensive programs to prevent sexual abuse in our parishes and schools in the future.''
The statement said the diocese had paid for ''extensive counseling for Mr. Scamardo.''
In the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, where Mr. Scamardo worked, Msgr. Frank H. Rossi, the chancellor who hired him, and Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza declined to comment, saying they wanted to protect his confidentiality as a former employee.
Annette Gonzales Taylor, the director of communications for the diocese, said that she had worked with Mr. Scamardo and considered him a friend but that she and others had no idea he was carrying such a burden until soon before he left.
''Robert is a very good man, and he was a very valued employee here,'' she said. ''We were heartbroken, devastated when we learned from him what had happened.''
Mr. Scamardo, 44, said he still struggled not to feel ashamed about what happened when he was 15 and the newly elected president of the Catholic Youth Organization for the Diocese of Austin.
He was invited to a convention of the Texas Catholic Conference in San Antonio and, he said, did not raise questions when the Rev. Dan Delaney, director for youth ministry for the Austin Diocese, arranged for them to share a hotel room. That night, Mr. Scamardo said, he awoke to find Father Delaney on top of him, masturbating him. Mr. Scamardo said he ran into the hallway. The priest never mentioned the matter, he said.
Mr. Scamardo said he soon told James Reese, the lay youth minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Austin, who listened sympathetically -- then sexually abused him on several occasions.