ITALY- Victims seek meeting with new pope
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is writing Pope Francis seeking a meeting to discuss how to stop and prevent current and future child sex crimes and cover ups. (Copy of letter is below.)
Over the past decade, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, have rarely tried to meet with Catholic officials, saying such efforts over the group’s first 15 years were largely “frustrating and fruitless.” Instead, the group has focused its advocacy work largely on secular officials to reform laws and prosecute those who have committed or covered child sex crimes.
But SNAP has expanded into more nations over the past few years, and “we now better understand just how helpless and fearful so many survivors across the world feel, especially in developing countries and countries where this crisis remains largely unspoken,” said SNAP Midwest Director Peter Isely of Milwaukee. “So despite years of unproductive talks with the church hierarchy, we feel driven, for the safety of at risk children, to try again with this new pontiff.”
“Your predecessor met a few times with a few carefully chosen victims in tightly choreographed settings, as he visited nations where this crisis had reached a fever pitch,” Said SNAP’s letter. “We seek a different kind of meeting – one in which our respective organizations – yours, huge and struggling, and ours, small and struggling – can perhaps begin to work together to safeguard children.”
“Struggling adults who were molested as kids can heal themselves, with or without the help of church officials, through therapy, support groups, and loved ones,” SNAP’s letter said. “But vulnerable kids cannot protect themselves, without the help of church officials. That’s one reason we believe that prevention is where we should all concentrate our energies.”
In his travels, Pope Benedict met with a handful of victims in a few nations including the US and the UK. SNAP was largely unimpressed with those events, arguing that they were largely symbolic with little practical effect on the crisis.
SNAP routinely urges those with knowledge or suspicions of child sex crimes to contact secular authorities, not church figures.
“We stand by that advice,” said SNAP director David Clohessy of St. Louis, who is in Rome. “That’s almost always the safest and quickest way to get a dangerous priest away from kids.”
Still, Clohessy said, SNAP cannot overlook the “immense power” of the pope to make “sweeping changes” in what the group describes as “a long-standing, deeply-rooted and still devastating crisis in the church.”
Twice in the last week, including yesterday, papal spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi mentioned SNAP by name, though not in flattering terms. But SNAP leaders say they are not deterred by such hostility.
“However slim the chances of such a meeting may be, or the chances it will lead to real reform, we simply have to try,” he said. “Some Catholic officials admit that our work is indeed helping to make the church a safer place for everyone. Someday, more will understand that.”
At a news conference in Rome last week, SNAP outlined 20 steps towards resolving the crisis that it hopes the new pope will take during his first 100 days on the job:
SNAP, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse with support groups in over 60 cities US cities and chapters in eight nations.
SNAP’s letter, being sent today by email and fax (if possible) and via overnight express, is below.
Dear Pope Francis,
We are survivors of childhood rape and sexual assault by catholic clergy around the world.
You have chosen as your namesake a man who was one of the greatest reformers in church history, a figure whose memory is universally beloved because he stood for justice. Across the globe, as you know, tens of thousands of childhood survivors of sexual abuse by clergy – priests, nuns, bishops, seminarians and others - are coming forward and demanding justice, accountability, prevention and transparency. We believe they are, by their courageous example, the “St. Francis” of the modern church.
Your predecessor met only a few times with a few carefully chosen victims in tightly choreographed settings, as he visited nations where this crisis had reached a fever pitch. We write today seeking a different kind of meeting – one in which our respective organizations – yours, huge and struggling, and ours, small and struggling – can begin to work together to safeguard children across the globe (not merely make gestures when forced to do so by external pressures).
Despite the differences we may have, we desperately hope we might be able – and you might be willing – to calmly talk with us about ways to better protect children from the devastating, lifelong effects of horrific childhood sexual trauma.
One of the famous sayings of St. Francis is: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” We believe that as daunting as it seems to rid the church of child sex offenders and corrupt church officials, doing so is necessary, for the sake of justice, healing and prevention. Surely a meeting between us – survivors who have labored in this vineyard for 25 years – and you, the new pontiff of the global church, could be a helpful way to perhaps begin this crucial work in a more positive way.
St. Francis once said “The deeds you do may be the only sermon persons will hear.” The deeds you do or omit to do – during your first days as Pope about the greatest moral challenge to the modern church—the abuse of children and the cover up of that abuse—will indeed be the only sermon that many in the world today are going to hear from you. We hope those deeds will be practical, proven and effective steps to stop child molesting clerics and deter complicit church supervisors from concealing their crimes.