A real-life Jack McCoy

by Heidi Schlumpf

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A Law & Order fan, like myself, would feel right at home at the national conference of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), held last weekend here in Chicago. Among the 300 or so attendees and speakers were judges, district attorneys and lawyers--lots of lawyers--and plenty of talk about statutes of limitations, corroborative evidence, and discovery hearings.

There was Victor Vieth, a former prosecutor who now trains law enforcement professionals about child sexual abuse and its spiritual implications; Michael Dolce, the Florida attorney who led the successful drive to eliminate that state's statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors; and of course Jeff Anderson, the famed Minnesota attorney who has represented hundreds of victims of clergy sex abuse.

But the legal professional who most impressed me was Phillip A. Koss, the district attorney of Walworth Couty, Wisconsin. Koss prosecuted Donald McGuire, the Chicago Jesuit a local newspaper called, "the most dangerous priest in America."

Among his more chilling revelations about the case:

* That McGuire's supporters, including members of Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity order, packed the courtroom every day. "I have tried cases against motorcycle gangs, bank robbers, drug dealers," he said. "I have never sat through a more intimidating trial than that trial."

* Parishioners wrote thousands of letters of support that filled a thick file ("like a phone book, and not an Elkhorn [Wisconsin] phone book, but a Chicago one!"). Some of those very letter-writers learned later that their own children had been abused, Voss said.

* McGuire's supporters tailed the two victims throughout the trial, hoping to catch them saying something that would exonerate the priest. They even followed the victims to the bathroom, to their cars, and stood outside the DA's office while Koss met with them, he said.

* The Jesuit province's attorney assured Voss there were no other victims out there, but then turned over 4,889 pages of documents during the appeal, which showed the order's suspicions about McGuire for a long time.

* How spiritually painful it was for Voss, an Episcopalian whose priest (a woman!) sat with him through the trial. "It really hurt, because I'm a person of faith," Voss said. "If just one of them [Jesuits] would have come up to me and said, 'You're doing the right thing.' But nobody did."

Voss is a humble guy. "This case made me what I am today--I was the DA then, and I'm the DA now," he joked. "I was just doing what I was supposed to do. The real heroes in this case are those who came forward."

Last month the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously upheld McGuire's conviction.

Following are the reports she filed during the conference:

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