Minnesota Supreme Court rejects ‘Repressed Memory’ junk-science used against priest

From Media Report:

Minn. Supreme Court Rejects ‘Repressed Memory’ Junk Science Against Priest, Media Yawns

Last Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court flatly rejected the psychological theory of “repressed memory” as bogus. The Court declared that scientific studies that have tried to prove the bogus theory have “lacked foundational reliability.”

Church-suing lawyers and accusers of abuse have attempted to use “repressed memory” as a way to circumvent statutes of limitations in order to file big-money lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

According to proponents of the discredited belief, some people completely forget instances of extreme trauma or abuse. Then, years or decades later, an event or thought – often directed by a convincing therapist – causes one to suddenly “remember” having been abused or traumatized.

In the case in Minnesota, an accuser – represented by high-profile, Church-suing attorney Jeff Anderson – tried to claim that his case of abuse against a Catholic priest should not be limited by the state’s statute of limitations because he was simply unable to remember being abused because he “repressed” the memory of it happening. Fortunately, the Minnesota courts didn’t buy it.

The theory of “repressed memory” is bizarre, indeed. The world’s leading experts in memory have roundly debunked the wild theory.


Read the rest there.

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  1. frjim4321 says:

    I have a mixed opinion on this matter. The summer between 7th grade and 8th grade I was helping a parish priest pack up for his next assignment. It was already known that I and some classmates were applying to the seminary high school. I was alone with this priest in his room and it was only several years later that I recognized that his behavior was seductive. Luckily nothing ever happened.

    But I could see how something could happen and not clarify until later in life. Like a 45-year-old priest trying a pawn off an extra electric razor on a 12-year-old saying, “you’re going to be needing this soon,” and stripping down to his boxers while changing for dinner with a boy in the room. That stuff did not click for me until much later in life . . . so I can see how stuff can lag for a long time before it “clicks.”

  2. Thanks be to God that they rejected this. Amazing what people will try to pull out of the hat to continue to beat up the Church in any way possible, even when no crimes have been committed.

  3. acardnal says:

    This “Repressed memory” bogus science brings to mind Shirley MacLaine’s memories of her past lives throughout the centuries:

    New Age proponent Shirley MacLaine reveals the supposed power of
    the individual when commenting, “It’s all my dream. I’m making all of it
    happen — good and bad — and I have the choice of how I’ll relate to it
    and what I’ll do about it.”

    MacLaine goes on to say, “Perhaps everyone has his own truth, and
    truth as an objective reality simply does not exist.”

  4. frjim4321 says:

    This “Repressed memory” bogus science brings to mind Shirley MacLaine’s memories …

    Hardly. Two entirely different things.

    Even for those who know what “repressed memory” is and reject it.

  5. Sissy says:

    “This “Repressed memory” bogus science brings to mind Shirley MacLaine’s memories …”

    frjime4321 said: “Hardly. Two entirely different things.Even for those who know what “repressed memory” is and reject it.”

    They are the same in that both are figments of someone’s imagination. Neither has any basis in fact.

  6. Ana says:

    There’s a big difference between realizing the purpose of certain subtle actions, such as mentioned by frjim, and suppressing extremely traumatic events.

  7. Sissy says:

    Ana: absolutely correct. The situation frjim4321 mentioned has nothing to do with so-called “repressed memory”.

  8. frjim4321 says:

    There’s a big difference between realizing the purpose of certain subtle actions, such as mentioned by frjim, and suppressing extremely traumatic events.

    A quantitative difference to be sure but not really a qualitative difference.

    I would go on, but I know that our Reverend and Dear Blogmaster frowns on sharing information which might be scandalous.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Epimetheus and Mnemosyne aren’t the same personified figures, other than both being head-related.

  10. Sissy says:

    frjim4321 said: “A quantitative difference to be sure but not really a qualitative difference.”

    The qualitative difference, Father, would be that one event has a foundation in fact (an actual encounter of possibly suspicious nature took place) and the other did not. There is no such thing as recovered memory of repressed abuse. It is junk science used to persecute innocent parties.

  11. Sissy says:

    Perhaps this will help you understand the difference between the two situations, Father Jim:

    “Dr. Richard J. McNally is the Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. As one of the world’s leading experts in the field of memory, he has 250 publications to his credit, including the heralded 2003 book, Remembering Trauma.
    In a 2005 letter to the California Supreme Court, which was handling a case in which “repressed memory” was debated, Dr. McNally asserted:
    “The notion that traumatic events can be repressed and later recovered is the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry. It has provided the theoretical basis for ‘recovered memory therapy’ — the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.”

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    In this case, Minnesota isn’t saying that somebody can’t have the penny drop about why Mr. Creepy did creepy things all those years ago.

    But they’re saying that you can’t go and get power-of-suggestioned into believing you remember things about Mr. Creepy, and then expect the courts to take your story into account.

  13. chantgirl says:

    Perhaps it is possible that VERY young children (maybe under 3) could repress a memory of something seriously traumatic as their brains are not equipped to handle some things. However, even if they could, I don’t think the memories of a child at such a young age would be reliable enough to convict someone of such a serious crime. Physical evidence needs to acompany such a charge, for the sake of the victims whose characters are questioned and for those who might be falsely accused. Sadly, such physical evidence is rarely available due to the shame surrounding sexual assault preventing victims from talking or seeking medical help right away, especially if the victims are children.To send someone to jail or forever ruin their reputation or vocation based on a questionable memory that is not supported by any physical evidence seems to be kangaroo court justice to me. I have a priest relative, and the fear that someone could falsely accuse him and ruin his life and priesthood is very real.

  14. Sissy says:

    These “repressed memory” cases are nothing more than attempts to shake-down the Church.

  15. Sissy says:

    Typically not, chantgirl. There issue with very young children isn’t “repression” that is later “recovered”. The memories might not be laid down at all, depending on the age of the child. Usually, traumatic memories of crime victims imprint very significantly (thought not necessarily accurately).

  16. Papabile says:

    Repressed memories certainly do occur.

    I wouldn’t admit them in court.

  17. Sissy says:

    Papabile: you’re entitled to your opinion, but professionals in the fields of medicine and psychology disagree. It is considered a hoax and quackery by experts in the field of memory.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Psychology studies the contents of the mind. It does not study historical events.

  19. AnnAsher says:

    From what I have read, and people I have known, I don’t completely agree. I think both things happen. I think a memory that is recovered by a therapist at the therapists suggestion should be held suspect. I think memories that come into focus and drive a person to the therapist should be given attention for possible truth. Trauma does get blocked by the psyche but usually, it seems, there is some glimmer if not complete awareness of the memory. So Im saying sometimes I think repressed memory is real.

  20. Papabile says:

    @ Sissy
    Plenty of professionals in the fields of psychiatry and psychology agree that it happens. My sister is a clinical psychologist, her husband is a clinical psychiatrist. Both of them agree that they exist.

    I have had a limited example of this in my own life when I suppressed details of what occurred after an M113 rollver compressed a soldier against a HMMWV. I literally couldn’t remember anything about it, except that I was told it happened. Several years after the fact, when together with some friends who I served with, it flooded back. And the details I remembered were almost exactly what they remembered.

    Would I admit these things in court? Hell no. It’s too arbitrary. How does one prove any of them true?

    I know in my case, it occurred, and I had people who were there and present at the same time to validate what I remembered.

  21. robtbrown says:

    Papabile says:

    Plenty of professionals in the fields of psychiatry and psychology agree that it happens. My sister is a clinical psychologist, her husband is a clinical psychiatrist. Both of them agree that they exist.

    Repressed Memories (or Repression) and Recovered Memories are not the same thing. The former is a mechanism of the psyche by which it protects itself from a traumatic event.

    The latter is a therapeutic technique that can confuse the therapy with the cause of the psychological disorder (cf Ann Asher–the recovery at the suggestion of the therapist).

    BTW, what is a non clinical psychiatrist?

  22. Sissy says:

    Papabile and AnnAsher: I respect both of your lay opinions and personal experiences on this. I am addressing the post directly, that is, a form of “legal evidence” that has been used to persecute any number of innocent people. I dealt with this issue (child sexual abuse) daily in my line of work. The reason it isn’t proper to use this discredited theory as legal evidence is because it is not a scientific theory of memory. As you suggest, there are individuals who claim, anecdotally, they they repressed a trauma and later recovered it with some help. That is not science, and it certainly isn’t legal evidence. The real-world result in most cases (and certainly all that I ever encountered) is that trauma actually enhances and intensifies memory; this can be demonstrated through empirical evidence. Please see Dr. McNally’s court testimony above. Memory is one of the most shifty, unreliable features of our being. The Innocence Project has uncovered several cases in which a credible eyewitness who was absolutely certain of his or her testimony was later proven to be completely wrong. The legal theory by which attorneys are attempting to defeat a statute of limitations for purposes of extortion money from the Church is bogus.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    This really isn’t a question of whether people sometimes have no memory of a traumatic event until some later time. I’m sure it happens from time to time.
    The question here is whether ‘recovered memory’ supposedly as the result of ‘therapy’ can be used as evidence in a court of law sufficient to overcome a statute of limitation.
    It can’t, and it shouldn’t. Evidence requires a much higher standard than our personal lives, because its consequences can be truly life-changing. And statutes of limitations exist because memories fade (or are revised, perhaps at the suggestion of a therapist with an axe to grind or a financial stake – you can call me a cynic) and witnesses disappear. In order to overcome a limitation, the evidence must be undisputed and almost overwhelming. The sort of fuzzy ‘expert’ testimony that’s been put forward for ‘recovered memory’ is nowhere near this high standard.
    Plus, you have the opportunists who come flocking in to take financial advantage — both lawyers and unscrupulous people who see a quick way to make a buck or hurt someone they dislike. In the legal business you see way too much of this going on — just a mundane example, some years ago in Atlanta there was an out of service transit bus on the way to the garage that had a minor collision on Peachtree Street right in front of Macy’s. Within two weeks MARTA had received over 50 claims from people who said they were on that bus (I was a young law student interning for MARTA’s lawyers at the time).

  24. Sissy says:

    Thanks, AnAmericanMother. You explained that much better than I was able to.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks Father, as I was years ago trying to point out a viscous and false ministry in my diocese which does this and still does. They only keep people paying year after year for their falsity. And, there was a lawsuit years ago in Florida over such a thing where the Christian group was found at fault for conjuring up false memories. It is at best, hokum and at worst, the occult. False counselors and therapists without proper degrees in retreat houses across America and Canada make tons of money on these types of things. Psychologists are divided on this, but what really ticks me off are untrained supposedly Catholic or Christian “therapists” and “faith healers” pushing these on the fringes or involved in charismatic healing services. This is dangerous. I am glad for this judgement.

  26. wmeyer says:

    An American Mother said: “…both lawyers and unscrupulous people…”

    These days, it is difficult to distinguish between those designations. With all respect to you, AAM, I do not claim all lawyers are unscrupulous, but I suspect you have seen a shift in the tide…

  27. AnAmericanMother says:

    Believe me, I’ve heard it all. 99% of the lawyers give the rest a bad name . . . .

    My dad (also a lawyer, it seems to run in the family) laments that when he was first coming along, all the lawyers in the City of Atlanta knew each other. It acted as a restraint on misconduct, because if you did somebody dirty you had to try another case with them in a week or a month and would get hammered, not to mention that nobody would talk to you at the Lawyers’ Club. These days, you might never see a lawyer that you deal with for a second time, because there are so many of them. So there’s no opportunity to keep ’em honest. (They’ll still blackball you from the Lawyers’ Club, but nobody cares so much anymore.)

    I will say this, though: the dirtiest lawyer in the world would have little opportunity to make mischief without a client. So folks looking for a quick and easy payday are part of the problem as well.

  28. AnAmericanMother says:

    My pleasure. There are actually cases that deal with “pseudo-science” and expert witnesses. Georgia used to let everything in, no matter how bizarre, and let the jury sort it out, but has now adopted the federal rule which has the trial judge act as a gatekeeper to sort out the established science from the baloney. Apparently Minnesota has adopted this rule as well, because “foundational reliability” is one of the catchwords. The leading case is Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).
    (more information than anybody needed, but I had it just lying around . . . . ) :-)

  29. wmeyer says:

    I understand that unscrupulous clients are needed by unscrupulous lawyers.

    Tort reform would help, in my view. Even more, loser pays would help to reduce the frivolous and opportunistic suits. Not sure it would help with the plague of class actions, however.

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