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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Mark Serrano, SNAP

Aired May 14, 2002 - 07:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And in Boston, another civil trial is proceeding against the Catholic Church. Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law underwent his third day of depositions involving his handling of pedophile priest John Geoghan. And a break yesterday, one of the priest's alleged victims spoke angrily about the cardinal's role.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK MCSORLEY, ALLEGED GEOGHAN VICTIM: And this was after they knew that he was a pedophile. I mean this wasn't like they were just learning he was a pedophile and sent him in there. They already knew he was a pedophile for so many odd years, then sent him there. And there was still a low assurance that he would be back out there molesting children again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining us now from Washington, Mark Vincent Serrano, with the organization SNAP, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests -- good morning and welcome.

MARK VINCENT SERRANO, SNAP: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: Based on the way these lawsuits are progressing, do you think children today in the Catholic Church are any safer than they were, let's say, four, five years ago?

SERRANO: No, I'm afraid not, Paula. The Catholic Church is still a safe haven for those who would sexually abuse children. And I think we see that in the words of Cardinal Egan -- a certain arrogance of power, a certain indifference to human suffering. You know, how many decent-thinking people would not know that for a perpetrator who had bitten the penis of his victim should not be in ministry?

ZAHN: And what did you make of his suggestion that priests are self-employed under the IRS code and essentially perhaps following a different guideline than bishops do?

SERRANO: Well I think we have a void of moral leadership, I'm afraid. And what I think people should do, and we should do, is judge the cardinal and his brother cardinals and church leaders not by their words, but by their deeds. There's a lot of talk of zero tolerance, about stamping out child sexual abuse. But at the same time, church leaders are directing their attorneys to pursue guerrilla legal tactics against victims who are grappling with the abuse, the effects of the abuse, in their adult lives today.

ZAHN: And what's the net result of that?

SERRANO: Well, you know, as a victim of child sexual abuse, it's not something that you just remember. It shapes the person you become. It effects everything in your life, your relationships, and everything you do. And so, in effect, people are re-victimized when they are addressed by lawyers with such legal tactics that are hardball.

And we have called upon the church leaders to stop these hardball legal tactics. We've called upon them to join us in changing the statute of limitation laws in all states so that they are eliminated for these kind of crimes, and changing the exemption for clergy in notification laws.

ZAHN: So what do you say to the defense that -- at least the Archdiocese of New York is using -- when they say, Look, the cardinal has made it very clear. We have a zero tolerance policy on the books now. And this is what Cardinal Egan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling had to say. Quote, "Every time someone breathes another part of a deposition we're not going to respond. This has been gone over in the past in the media. What is important is what we are doing now, not what was done 10, 20 or 30 years ago."

Your response to that?

SERRANO: Yes. I mean, look, these cases are not about the past. They're about protecting children today, as much as they are resolving the children that, you know, survivors once were. We need to take a look at their actions, not their words. And when they talk about zero tolerance, are they revealing all their case files from over the years? Are prosecutors properly pressuring them to reveal all that they have known, or are they just looking ahead?

If they just look ahead, then all of those victims from the past have been disenfranchised, I think. And what we'd like to see is for survivors to feel the comfort and the strength to come forward, to join us at our Web site, survivorsnetwork.org, to seek help and support. But these legal tactics that the bishops are using still go on to this day, where they are counter-suing parents and blaming parents for the abuse, where they are hiring private investigators.

And I think it is immoral. And to suggest that church leaders are just counting on their lawyers to make this decision is wrong. They have the decision to be able to direct their attorneys to stop these hardball legal tactics.

ZAHN: Time, Mark, just for a quick answer to this one. Now that people have had a chance to see this videotaped deposition of Cardinal Egan, where he admitted to encouraging a priest, an abuser, to continue working, and even wrote a letter of recommendation, what do you think should happen to him?

SERRANO: Well, look, Cardinal Egan was wrong for that. And every decent person knows that. This is about the power structure of the Catholic Church and the secrecy within which Cardinal Egan and his brother cardinals operate.

And we need to have full disclosure of all case files, like the disclosure that we've had in this case from Bridgeport. And as we enter into June soon for the meetings in Dallas of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, we want to see more action and less words.

ZAHN: Would you like to see him step down?

SERRANO: I think any cardinal who has knowingly allowed more children to be victimized, when he had the right information about a perpetrator, should step down. But that's not the real answer to this problem. We have a power structure that is virtually above the law. And we need for that to change substantively and for prosecutors to take a close look at the decisions that have been made by Cardinal Egan and his brother cardinals and other leaders in the Church.

ZAHN: Mark Vincent Serrano, again, thank you for your time this morning. Glad to have you with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

SERRANO: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Good luck to you.

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