Thursday, January 24, 2013


This is going to be a really boring post because it is background information that might help to understand future posts.  It’s stuff I had to google.  The reason for doing it is wondering about the four law companies who have been fishing with half-page ads in the Great Falls Tribune and the Glacier Reporter for information about abuse or sexual molestation committed by priests.  So far they claim to have information about two deceased local priests, both of whom I knew slightly, mostly because I attended funeral masses where they officiated.  One was Father Egon Mallman who was at St. Anne’s in Heart Butte for many decades and one was Father Patrick Stimatz who served the whole reservation from Browning.  Both were strict and crusty.  Locals, especially kids, might use the word “mean”.  No doubt memories have not softened over the years. The statute of limitations is a moot point in the case of these two men, since their lives are over.  It is the church itself that is being sued.

The law firms sponsoring these ads are as follows:

Datsopoulos MacDonald & Lind, P.C. in Missoula.
James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A. in Coeur d’Alene.
Kosnoff Fasy, PLLC, in Seattle.
Joseph A. Blumel III, P.S. in Spokane.

The initials only indicate the kind of business organization: PC for Professional Corporation, PA for Professional Association, and PLLC for Professional Limited Liability Companies.  Limited Liability means there is a cap on the amount for which they can be sued.  To those “in the know,” the specific law school that granted the degree might hint at a particular approach.

In the background, on the website of Datsopoulos MacDonald and Lind, is another entity: the Seattle University Center for Indian Law & Policy and the related Seattle University Law School Indian Wills Project.   I’m puzzled about what relationship might exist between this Jesuit university and these four “fishing” law firms.  It would seem that the Jesuits would be invested in protecting rather than exposing dead priests.  On the other hand, connecting to a Jesuit law school with a special interest in Native Americans might be a good way of attracting Native American students.  A cynical person might say that the Cobell settlement means there is a lot of money out there for higher education and that contemporary young Blackfeet might be more interested in a law degree than in a used car.

From the Seattle University website:

Seattle University, founded in 1891, is a Jesuit Catholic university located on 50 acres in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. More than 7,700 students are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs within eight schools and colleges.”

“Professor Douglas Nash serves as the Director of the Institute for Indian Estate Planning and Probate. He is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and has practiced Indian law for some 34 years in numerous capacities including 14 years in private practice during which time he did estate planning and probate work, Chief Counsel for the Nez Perce Tribe for 10 years.” 
One byproduct of these ads will be a list of Native American persons who read newspapers and are interested in the issue because of experience, idealism, a desire to reform systems, or the hope of money.  Kosnof Facy has a great deal of experience with Boy Scouts claiming to have been molested or abused by their leaders.
Authority can be raw and immediate:  the authority of a gun, for instance, which is so craved by people who have no other authority.  Or the authority of lesser violence -- do what I say or I’ll hurt you or what you care about.  The authority of employment gives managers or owners control over one’s access to a salary or conditions of work, from providing insurance to requiring damaging actions.  The most extreme of this kind of authority is slavery and trafficking where a person is reduced to being a domestic animal without even the protection of cruelty laws.

Or authority can be earned by virtues like generosity, steadiness, wisdom, warmth, and understanding.  The authentic authority of religious leaders cannot be enforced if they do not provide these qualities.  People who require obedience that they cannot get by voluntary allegiance might become frustrated enough to use force.   There is always tension between the role and personal qualities.  In the best of all worlds, they go together.  When they separate, both are diminished.  In our modern world - in the case of parents/children and clergy/children - there seem often to be separations between role and person.   Adults “don’t get no respect” from having a title.  They have to earn it.

It is not all the fault of the adults in question.  Children get many ideas from the media and if what they learn is not to respect poor people or drunks or the uneducated or the shabby or the infected, that can overwhelm valuing those individuals as persons, unless there is real connection, real understanding.  I notice how many times the word “respect” is used to justify force in street life.

What follows now is a kind of check list of kinds of law.  The over-arching premise is that by going through the standardized, self-governing procedure by law, people can at best receive justice and at least avoid violence, especially in inflammatory areas like children and sex.  
The concept of authority can be distributed out over a kind of graph:  horizontally according the power of various institutions:  state, church, military, etc.;  and vertically down the levels of written law and enforcement:  treaty, constitution, federal law, state law, county and city law, regulations at all those same levels, and the personal discretion and witnessing of the on-the-ground enforcer.  Keeping order among all these factors is a parallel series of courts and judges, including a system of appeals.
Two major categories of law are criminal laws which address harm to persons and property at various levels (capital, felony, misdemeanor), and civil law which has more to do with business practices and keeping public order like marriage or adoption.  

Besides that, is “tort” law, which is suing someone because you just feel what they did was unjust or damaging.  You can sue anyone in this way, but you must have “standing,” which is to say that you must show you have a personal stake in the outcome and you must show that you were actually damaged.  Lawsuits in the case of abuse by dead priests would come under tort law and possibly “class action” -- a grouping of a category of tort law victims.

Two kinds of law remain:  natural consequences, which means that if you go around offending and challenging people, someone is likely to retaliate, and religious law, which might be specific as in the Old Testament or a matter of principle as in the New Testament: most cogently, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If I have any institutional affiliation, it is that I’m still in “good standing,” though not active, as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist denomination.  I will not be identifying any individuals, pro or con, unless they ask me to or are public figures, but my motivation comes from many individual priests, some my friends and some my distinguished professors, whom I admire.  I might quote and therefore name the latter, but I don’t go on witch hunts.  

No comments: