In response to what they are calling a "stunning silence by Catholic officials and shocking callousness by Catholics parishioners," victims of sexual abuse are begging the head of the Los Angeles archdiocese to speak out about the arrest of two accused pedophile priests. And they want him to insist that his flock respond “appropriately” when clerics are accused of molesting kids.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests are writing LA Archbishop Jose Gomez about two priests – Fr. Luis Jose Cuevas of Long Beach and Fr. Rafael Venegas of Santa Monica.
Cuevas was charged in July with sexually assaulting a child. Venegas was also charged in July with sexual battery and giving alcohol to minors.
SNAP is “surprised and disappointed" that Gomez has “been silent” about the two arrests. "You pledged to be ‘open and transparent’ about clergy sex cases. This is when your flock needs you the most," the letter says. "Catholics are confused, victims are scared, and children are at risk. It is your duty to reach out to every parish where these men worked and foster healing and help police, by turning over any information you have on these priests to law enforcement."
In response to the news of Cuevas' arrest, more than 100 of the cleric’s supporters came to his arraignment to show vocal support for him.
Such actions, SNAP says, intimidate victims, witnesses and whistleblowers.
"It is terribly difficult for any victim of abuse to come forward," said Joelle Casteix, SNAP Western Regional Director. "But when victims are scared to enter a criminal courtroom for fear that they will be overwhelmed by the accused’s backers, they will stay silent, predators will walk free, and kids will be hurt.”
Parishioners think they are helping the priest, but instead are “fostering crime and silence," SNAP says.
SNAP is also sending Gomez the link to an online brochure, "What To Do If Your Priest Is Accused of Abuse," that educates Catholics about what the group calls “safe, helpful and compassionate ways that people can support their priest.”
"Your parishioners are suffering. Your children are at risk ... As best we can tell, not a single bishop on the planet has insisted his flock behave sensitively in clergy sex cases or taught his flock about compassionate and helpful ways to act when a priest is accused of
molesting a child," SNAP’s letter says. "We hope you'll be the first."
SNAP's letter to Archbishop Gomez is below.
Most Reverend Jose Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Archdiocese of Los Angeles
3424 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2241
Dear Archbishop Gomez,
We are victims of sexual abuse who are members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPNetwork.org), the nation's largest support group for men and women who were sexually abused in religious or institutional settings. We are writing you today about the two Los Angeles priests who have been recently arrested for sexual abuse.
Fr. Luis Cuevas and Fr. Rafael Venegas have been charged with multiple counts of battery, yet scared and hurting victims have received little solace from you, the local leader of their faith.
We are stunned by your silence at this time of crisis. You pledged to be ‘open and transparent’ about clergy sex cases. This is when your flock needs you the most. You officiated a Marian Mass attended by thousands, yet when the weakest among you are hurting, you say nothing and do little to ease their pain.
At the same time, many of Cuevas' supporters have flooded the courtroom in a show of support for the priest that may scare the victims and other witnesses and whistleblowers into silence.
This is dangerous behavior. Not only are they causing a great amount of personal pain to victims and their families, but they are also scaring ALL victims of sexual abuse into silence, no matter the perpetrator. No victim of abuse will ever feel safe coming forward to report if they know they will be greeted by a lynch mob.
Your parishioners are suffering. Your children are at risk. Catholics are confused, victims are scared, and children are at risk. It is your duty and obligation to reach out to every parish where these men worked and foster healing. You must also turn over any information you have on these priests to law enforcement. Entire communities are destroyed when someone is sexually abused by a person in a position of trust. Now is the time for you to do the right thing.
If you genuinely want to prevent abuse and help victims, you should do all you can to create a more "victim-friendly" environment, which encourages - not discourages - the reporting of child sex crimes.
As best we can tell, not a single bishop on the planet has insisted his flock behave sensitively in clergy sex cases or taught his flock about compassionate and helpful ways to act when a priest is accused of molesting a child. We hope you'll be the first.
In light of this, we ask the following:
- Distribute the online brochure "What To Do When Your Priest is Accused of Abuse" to every parish in the diocese, including the lay leadership of St. Joseph,
- Personally visit every parish where Venegas and Cuevas worked and reach out to potential victims and hurting Catholics, and
- Make a public announcement that the harassment and intimidation of victims, witnesses and whistleblowers will not be tolerated
We look forward to your immediate response and action in this matter. The online brochure may be found at http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/when_priest_accused.htm and is attached at the bottom of this message.
Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, CA, SNAP Western Regional Director
Barb Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director
former parishoner, St. Anne’s