NJ - Clerical Sexual Abuse Survivors Urge New Jersey Leaders: Act Now to Prevent Future Child Sexual Assaults
Mark Serrano, 703-727-4940 (cell); 703-771-9606 (office)
Paul Steidler, 703-587-3462 (cell); 703-467-5981 (office)
Critique Memorandum of Understanding Between State and Catholic Dioceses; Offer Five Solutions
Trenton, NJ/December 4, 2002 -- The following statement was issued today by Paul Steidler of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) following a meeting between state and national leaders of SNAP and senior members of the New Jersey Attorney General's office. An appendix with additional information about the matters discussed in the statement is also provided.
"We have just concluded a vigorous and far-ranging discussion with some of the most senior members of New Jersey's law enforcement community about the public safety dangers that sexual offenders in the Catholic Church pose to New Jersey children today.
New Jersey, like most other states, has a dismal record of arresting and prosecuting felony sex-offender priests. These child rape artists have been able for decades to terrify their victims into silence. They have also been aided in their crimes by many cowardly bishops who have chosen to remain silent. For all intents and purposes, these sex-offender priest predators have operated with impunity and are at-large in New Jersey today.
At the meeting, we noted that the announcement made by the Bishops and the Attorney General earlier this week is remarkably deficient for a number of reasons.
First, it is a completely voluntary agreement that provides no penalty for non-compliance.
Second, it does not require any new disclosures of case files from the secret vaults of bishops.
Third, there is a clause in this agreement that exempts Catholic-run institutions like hospitals, colleges, and universities - which have traditionally been a dumping ground for Bishops to hide sex offenders.
Fourth, the agreement calls for confidentiality of perpetrators in all cases reported to prosecutors. Bishops do not need authorized secrecy. We all need more disclosure to protect children.
To address past injustices and prevent future crimes, we have proposed five solutions.
Statewide Grand Jury -- We have asked the Attorney General to convene a grand jury with the power to subpoena all documents from the Catholic Church.
Bishops' Quarterly Disclosures to the Attorney General - We have asked the Attorney General to require from New Jersey's Catholic Bishops, every three months, a comprehensive list of the whereabouts of all current and former priests who have been credibly accused of sex crimes.
Eliminate Statute of Limitations - We have asked the Attorney General to champion legislation that would truly eliminate all criminal and civil statutes on child sex abuse in New Jersey.
Survivor Liaisons in Each Catholic Diocese - We have asked the Attorney General to allow our organization to assign survivor liaisons for each Catholic Diocese in New Jersey to assist in the prosecution of abuse cases and promote our presence in the state to support victims.
Participation in a Statewide Support Group Meeting and Media Forum - SNAP has invited Governor McGreevey, Attorney General Samson, and other New Jersey public safety officials to participate in a summit meeting of sexual abuse survivors in January, and to plan with us a public forum with prosecutors and Bishops to address the ongoing public safety crisis in the Church.
It is important to be clear on the following. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests will always first and foremost be an organization of healing and support for those who have been abused by priests and other religious. And we urge all victims who have not already done so, to contact us via our website: www.survivorsnetwork.org .
We have no agenda for the Catholic Church, other than making sure it is a safe place for all children. We are not a political action group and we certainly do not have a staff in Trenton like the New Jersey Catholic Conference does.
We are addressing this public safety crisis because we have to do so. Bishops, legislators, courts, and prosecutors have all failed the victims of clerical child sexual abuse in New Jersey and throughout America. To paraphrase the great statesman Edmund Burke, all that has been necessary for the evil of child sex offenders to triumph in New Jersey has been for good men and women to do nothing.
Today, SNAP asks the people of New Jersey, Catholic and non-Catholic, young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural to join with us in supporting and advocating the reasonable steps we outlined to the Attorney General's office."
Major Deficiencies with the Memorandum of Understanding Between Catholic Dioceses and County Prosecutors/State of New Jersey
The announcement made by the Bishops and the Attorney General earlier this week is remarkably deficient for a number of reasons. The following are just a few:
First, it is a completely voluntary agreement that provides no penalty for non-compliance. As a nation of laws, everyone knows that there must be penalties for criminal violations, past, present, and future, or the laws are meaningless.
Second, it does not require any new disclosures of case files from the secret vaults of Bishops. This is critically necessary for the prevention of additional offenses against children by the offenders. Let's be clear about the need for these disclosures - felony sex offenders have gotten away with murder, the murder of the spirits and innocence of young victims, mainly through the concealment of data and information. Prevention of sexual abuse today can only be achieved if law enforcement officials know the whereabouts of all credibly accused sex offenders who have evaded prosecution through cover-ups and legal technicalities. Catholic Bishops cannot be relied upon to report this information without the force of law.
Third, there is a clause in this agreement (Article 3) that exempts the reporting of perpetrators in Catholic-run institutions like hospitals, colleges, and universities. Historically, these institutions have been a dumping ground for bishops to hide sexual offenders in their dioceses. Though there is much flawed in the agreement, this particular exemption must be removed immediately. This creates a dangerous loophole for these bishops to hide sex offenders.
Fourth, the agreement (see Article 6) calls for confidentiality of the names of alleged perpetrators in all cases reported to prosecutors. This is one reason why victims are less likely to report abuse claims to the church, and now to law enforcement.
Secrecy is not something that Catholic Bishops need to have "codified" through an agreement with the Attorney General. Bishops are the foremost experts on secrecy and this is something that must be reversed through the law, not enhanced. Confidentiality is a tool that should be used by the Attorney General and prosecutors on a case-by-case basis only, since we know that when credibly accused sex offenders are identified publicly, other victims often come forward improving the chances of justice being served. Bishops do not need authorized secrecy; we all need more disclosure to protect children.
Solutions Proposed by SNAP
Statewide Grand Jury -- We have asked the Attorney General to follow what has been done in Massachusetts and convene a statewide grand jury that would have the power to subpoena all documents from the Catholic Church. It is only when these documents see the sunshine of public inspection by a group of New Jersey citizens and law enforcement professionals that we will understand the breadth and depth of clerical child molestation in New Jersey and the criminal and civil actions that should be taken.
Bishops' Quarterly Disclosures to the Attorney General - We have asked the Attorney General to every three months obtain from New Jersey's Catholic Bishops a comprehensive list of the whereabouts of all current and former priests living in the state who have been credibly accused of sex crimes.
Nearly all of the offenders have gotten away with their crimes, and are thus not publicly identified via Megan's Law. It is far too easy today for religious order priests, and former priests, to move across state lines and blend in with the community. The Bishops, working with their colleagues, would be responsible for notifying the Attorney General of the current location of all these offenders in New Jersey.
With this information, law enforcement professionals would notify public schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and other organizations that employ and/or have volunteers that work with children, about these offenders.
Eliminate Statute of Limitations - We have asked the Attorney General to champion legislation with the Governor and with the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator William Gormley, that would truly eliminate all criminal and civil statutes on child sex abuse in New Jersey. Any adult who has ever sexually molested a child in New Jersey should be criminally prosecuted and sent to jail. Any victim of child sexual abuse should be perennially able to sue his or her abuser and those who facilitated these crimes. Such civil sanctions will ensure that the Church and other organizations do the right thing to protect children.
Survivor Liasons in Each Catholic Diocese - We have asked the Attorney General to allow our organization to assign survivor liaisons for each Catholic Diocese in New Jersey who will work with county prosecutors and the Attorney General's office to conduct proper outreach to victims, oversee the proper reporting of abuse claims by dioceses, and support the prosecutorial process for past, present, and future claims of abuse.
Participation in a Statewide Support Group Meeting and Media Forum - SNAP has invited Governor McGreevey, Attorney General Samson, and other New Jersey public safety officials to participate in two meetings. One is a quarterly summit for our HOST/SNAP coalition on January 11, and the second is a forum we would like to plan to include abuse survivors, our families, the Attorney General, and bishops, to address the continuing crisis of public safety in the Church today. We hope the Attorney General will take us up on these invitations.