Saturday, August 22, 2009

Priest abuse case hinges on "repressed" memories

August 21, 2009
Priest abuse case hinges on "repressed" memories

John Doe RG, as he is known in court papers, doesn't have much room for God in his life these days. It wasn't always so.
As an altar boy at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Indianapolis in the 1970s, he and his family were deeply involved in the church. But John Doe RG lost that somewhere along the way. For a long time he didn't now where. But he says it found out the reason why in 2003, when -- during a session with his therapist -- he began recovering memories about sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of priest Harry Monroe.
Today, in a sterile courtroom in Indianapolis, John Doe RG spent two hours listening to legal arguments about whether abuse that is more than 30-years-old can be addressed in a lawsuit -- long after the normal statute of limitations have expired -- because the victim's memories had been "repressed" until recently.
Today's legal debate focused squarely on this question of whether some trauma victims, such as those sexually victimized by priests, really can lose access to their memories of the abuse for long periods of time, and then recover them later, as John Doe RG says happened to him.
Judge David Dreyer, who is hearing the case, said he will need at least a month to make a decision. But the case can't go forward unless he allows testimony about repressed memory to be heard -- it is the only way John Doe RG can comply with the statute of limitations.
Dreyer asked the lawyers to provide him more information about the relationship between the term "dissociative amnesia," which is listed in the psychiatrist's desk reference, and "repressed memory," which is not.
In the past, Indiana courts have allowed cases based on repressed memories to go forward. But Archdiocese of Indianapolis attorney Jay Mercer argued the concept of "repressed memory" is "psychiatric folklore," in the words of critics he cited. He said many experts believe that memories never really go away, but that trauma victims either choose to forget or they simply haven't been reminded of it. In those and other instances, Mercer argued, that shouldn't justify any leeway when it comes to the statute of limitations.
Attorney Pat Noaker, arguing for John Doe RG, said the terms repressed memory and dissociative amnesia are essentially interchangeable. And he argued that it wasn't necessary for Dreyer to decide the validity of repressed memory testimony because the Indiana Supreme Court had twice deemed it valid.
From a seat in the gallery next to his wife, John Doe RG, a 44-year-old business man who now lives out of state, said he was frustrated that so much time had to be spent focused on issues secondary to the fact that a priest abused a boy and the church let it happen.
In wake of his abuse, the facts of which weren't contested by the archdiocesan attorney, John Doe RG said he has lost all interest in God and the church, which he quit at age 17. "I don't have a God. I don't have a belief in a higher being. We're here because we're organisms," he said. "I believe in evolution."

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