IN--Victims write Indy church re abuse case

IN--Victims write Indy church re abuse case

For immediate release: Wednesday, April 20, 2016

For more information: David Clohessy 314-566-9790davidgclohessy@gmail.com, Barbara Dorris 314 503 0003bdorris@SNAPnetwork.org

Abuse case sparks controversy

Victims write to Indy congregants

Group says child was abused by older teen

It wants open public meeting and more training

SNAP: “We suspect police weren’t promptly called”

A support group for abuse victims believes a child was recently molested by a member of an Indianapolis church and urging congregants to prod church staff to be more forthcoming about the incident.

Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing to hundreds of members of Southport Presbyterian Church church says the organization “strongly suspects that law enforcement wasn't promptly or properly notified” about the alleged abuse of a youngster in the church by an older teenager.

SNAP is “begging” church members to share any information or suspicions about possible child sex crimes or cover ups with police or prosecutors immediately,” saying it’s their “civic and moral duty.”

“All of us must share what we know, believe or have heard about possible child sex crimes with the experienced, impartial professionals in law enforcement,” the letter says. “When church members or staff take it on themselves to try and handle sensitive matters like sexual misconduct quietly and internally - even if they're well-intentioned - it's almost always a recipe for disaster.

“Several concerned individuals have asked for our help, so we thought this letter would be a positive first step,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, the organization’s outreach director. “We work to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and deter the cover ups, and we hope some congregants will help us do this here.”

Church officials, SNAP says, should  

---pay for “on-going counseling for the victim(s) from independent sources chosen by his/her family,”

---provide mandatory training for all staff and volunteers on how to prevent abuse and respond appropriately abuse reports, and  

---hire an independent outsider or outside agency to “launch a thorough inquiry into which church staff and/or members knew what and when” and “include clear recommendations for making the church a safer place for all, now and in the future.”

Church members, SNAP says, should ask their youngsters “if anyone in the church - congregant, volunteer or staff member - ever touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable” and should “reach out to former church members and staff” and ask the same question.

“Often, when a youngster is hurt by a predator in a church, his or her family stop coming to services,” the letter contends. “Rarely do they explain why. So think about families who once came to church regularly and suddenly stopped coming. And contact them in a sensitive, loving way.”

“In every case of suspected child sex crimes, it’s safest and easiest to do nothing. But that’s irresponsible and endangers kids and helps predators,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s director. “That temptation – to passively sit back and trust others to take action – is what we hope our letter will help overcome.”

Instead, SNAP advocates calling “independent, experienced and unbiased secular officials with any information or suspicions at all,” Clohessy said.

“It's our job to share what we know or suspect about abuse with law enforcement,” the letter says. “It's THEIR job to investigate and, if appropriate, to act. So do not assume that what you have seen, heard or suspected about wrongdoing is too vague, too old or too insignificant to be helpful.”

Church members should “ignore church staff or elders who caution against ‘gossip,’ because while "gossip is sometimes hurtful” silence about child sex abuse reports is “much worse” because “those who commit or conceal child sex crimes count on silence.”

And congregants should “resist talk of forgiveness," SNAP advises. “Forgiveness is healthy but only AFTER the innocent are protected, predators are exposed and wrongdoers are held responsible. Premature forgiveness endangers kids and protects predators.”

False abuse allegations are possible but rare, SNAP says.

“While it's obviously very hard for a wrongly accused adult to repair a damaged reputation, it's much harder for a sexually abused child to repair a deeply damaged psyche,” the SNAP letter says. “We must err on the side of protecting the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of a victim, not on the side of protecting the comfort of the accused.”

“We hope you'll prod your pastor to hold an open ‘question and answer’ session about this with the full congregation, not a carefully-choreographed presentation scripted by defense lawyers or public relations professionals,” the letter says.

The church is at 7525 McFarland Blvd, Indianapolis (317) 534-2900. It’s pastored by Rob Hock (rhock@southportpc.org) and Josh Cole. (rcole@southportpc.org).

A copy of SNAP’s letter, mailed Tuesday, is below:

Dear SPC congregant:
We believe that a youngster in your church has recently been sexually violated by an older teenager. And we strongly suspect that law enforcement wasn't promptly or properly notified.

We're begging you to share any information or suspicions you may have about possible child sex crimes or cover ups with police or prosecutors immediately. That is, we firmly believe, your civic and moral duty. For more than a quarter century, our group has helped those who have seen, suspected or suffered child sex crimes in churches. Our mission is to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth. We are "pro-child," not "anti-church." In fact, we want your congregation to be the safest place possible for all families.

There's one clear, simple, proven way to make this happen: All of us must share what we know, believe or have heard about possible child sex crimes with the experienced, impartial professionals in law enforcement. When church members or staff take it on themselves to try and handle sensitive matters like sexual misconduct quietly and internally - even if they're well-intentioned - it's almost always a recipe for disaster.

So we are begging you, for the safety of children, to take several steps:
--Ask your own youngsters if anyone in the church - congregant, volunteer or staff member - ever touched them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. If so, please call the police. (For tips on how to talk with kids about this difficult subject, please go to Darkness to Light  www.D2L.org)

--Reach out to former church members and staff. Call or visit them. Ask them if anyone in their family may have been hurt by a church member. If so, beg them to call police or prosecutors. Often, when a youngster is hurt by a predator in a church, his or her family stop attending church. Rarely do they explain why. So think about families who once came to church regularly and suddenly stopped coming. And contact them in a sensitive, loving way.

--If you can't bring yourself to visit or call these families, mail them a copy of this letter. Do so anonymously if need be. But honor the parable of the good shepherd and reach out to the lost, wounded sheep. Do NOT passively sit back and assume that if someone was hurt, he or she will manage to summon the strength to speak up. Youngsters who have been violated and are confused, afraid and ashamed often need responsible adults to speak for them.

--Remember that it's our job to share what we know or suspect about abuse with law enforcement. It's THEIR job to investigate and, if appropriate, to act. So do NOT "self-censor." Do NOT assume that what you have seen, heard or suspected about wrongdoing is too vague, too old or too insignificant to be helpful.

--If for whatever reason, you cannot bring yourself to contact police or prosecutors with information or suspicions, call other independent sources of help, like therapists or support groups like ours.

--Ignore church staff or elders who caution against "gossip." Gossip is sometimes hurtful. But when an abuse report has been made, there's something much worse than gossip. It's silence. Silence is what those who commit or conceal child sex crimes count on. It's toxic. It enables more crimes to happen. And it traps those who are already suffering in shame, confusion and self-blame.

--Resist talk of "forgiveness." Forgiveness is healthy but only AFTER the innocent are protected, predators are exposed and wrongdoers are held responsible. Premature forgiveness endangers kids and protects predators. It's a choice that individuals can and should make on their own, not after having been guilt-tripped or prodded to do so by self-serving church officials who are often more focused on avoiding scandal and protecting reputations.

--Remember: While it's obviously very hard for a wrongly accused adult to repair a damaged reputation, it's MUCH harder for a sexually abused child to repair a deeply damaged psyche. We must err on the side of protecting the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of a victim, not on the side of protecting the comfort of the accused.

--And we must also err on the side of courage and action. That's what wrongdoers fear. That's what decency requires. And that's what kids need if they are to be safer from predators.

For more suggestions, please see "What you should do when your pastor is accused of abuse" on our website: SNAPnetwork.org (But please understand, we are NOT accusing any pastor or church employee of abuse. Still, the same advice applies to a situation like this, in which a church member is the alleged abuser.)

Finally, let us be as clear as we can be. This is not an "old case" from years ago. This is very recent wrongdoing. And it's wrongdoing that, unless adults in the ____ _ church community act responsibly, may be repeated. (We fear that more than one youngster may have already been hurt.)

If you're read this far, you will likely have many questions about this troubling situation. We urge you to talk among fellow congregants. We encourage you to ask questions of church staff. In fact, we hope you'll prod your pastor to hold an open "question and answer" session about this with the full congregation (not a carefully-choreographed presentation scripted by defense lawyers or public relations professionals).  And we welcome you calling us.

We just ask that you first think long and hard about how you would feel and what you would want if your youngster was the one who was sexually violated by a church member.

Finally, we wish we could be more specific with what we have learned and what we suspect. But we are a confidential support group. We care most about the safety of kids. But we are also deeply committed to supporting the wounded and protecting the privacy of victims, witnesses and whistleblowers. We hope you understand. And we hope you see our plea as precisely what it is - a genuine effort by a caring group of victims to prevent other kids from being assaulted and betrayed like we have been.

David Clohessy

Director, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

314-566-9790 (cell)

davidgclohessy@gmail.com

Barbara Dorris

Outreach Director, SNAP

6245 Westminster                           

St. Louis MO 63130

314 503 0003


P.S. We would also strongly urge church officials to take three other steps. First, they should provide on-going counseling for the victim(s) from independent sources chosen by his/her family. This is crucial. Rarely do victims of child sexual abuse in church settings trust therapists who are associated with or chosen by church officials. And part of recovery for victims is often being able to make their own choices about treatment.

Second, church officials should provide mandatory training – again, using professional, experienced outside professionals - for all staff and volunteers – in how to prevent and stop abuse and in how to respond appropriately when abuse is known or suspected.

Third, church officials should hire an independent outsider or outside agency like G.R.A.C.E. (www.netgrace.org)  to launch a thorough inquiry into which church staff and/or members knew what and when, including strong accountability for senior leaders. This investigation should look closely at the church’s current child safety policy and its methodology and results should be made public and include clear recommendations for making the church a safer place for all, now and in the future.

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