Victims blast church “star chamber”
Group seeks end to secret abuse panel
SNAP: “Newark Catholic board should resign”
And replacements’ names should be made public
Parishioners should be able to vote on them, victims say
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging members of a Newark Catholic church abuse panel to resign and speak out against their archbishop’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases. They also want the names of current and future board members to be made public and parishioners to have a voice in picking new board members.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are urging Catholics who belong to the Newark archdiocesan “review board” to “step down, speak out and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.” They have sent a letter today to the board members, via Newark Archbishop John Myers, who personally appointed each of them, and other archdiocesan staff.
“These are likely well-intentioned people whose qualifications and reputations are being used by Archbishop Myers to justify reckless, callous and possibly illegal moves that protect predator priests and endanger vulnerable kids,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s outreach director. “For their own sakes, and the safety of Newark area families, they should step aside and join with victims, witnesses and whistleblowers who are working to expose corruption in the church.”
SNAP says that the case of Fr. Michael Fugee and other predator priests show that “there is something dreadfully wrong with how (Myers) handles abuse cases.”
Every Catholic diocese in the US is required to have a “review board” which purportedly “advises” each bishop about clergy sex abuse reports. In most dioceses, their names are public. But Myers refuses to identify who they are in Newark.
“Keeping board members’ identities secret deters abuse victims from reporting clergy sex crimes,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s outreach director. “Why would I walk into a room of people to disclose horrific childhood trauma to people who might include my boss, my ex-husband, my next door neighbor or five defense lawyers? That’s just crazy.”
In dioceses in California, Iowa and elsewhere, SNAP says, review board members have quit in frustration or concern because their views were not heeded or information was withheld from them.
Joelle Casteix of Orange County California (firstname.lastname@example.org) was on her diocesan review board and is now SNAP’s western regional director.
“It was basically a sham,” she said.
In 2002, four members of one such panel in Richmond Virginia resigned as a group when their bishop ignored their recommendations and restored an accused priest to active ministry, despite allegations that he acted inappropriately with at least three underaged boys, including giving them liquor, telling them to “lower their pants and underwear to their knees and expose their penises, massaging an unclothed student, wrestling with a student (and saying he loved and wanted the student), and inviting a student to his bedroom to massage his back.”
One of the most high profile instances involved psychologist Dr. James Jenkins, who headed the San Francisco archdiocesan panel and clashed with then-Archbishop William Levada (who went on to become a high-ranking Vatican official charged with handling abuse in the church worldwide).
The dioceses of Kansas City and Philadelphia have been among the hardest-hit by recent clergy sex abuse and cover up scandals. In both, review board members have spoken publicly, saying they were not told of some allegations and were given incomplete information about others.
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today to Myers by fax and email, is below:
May 22, 2013
Dear Archbishop Myers:
We respectfully ask you to forward this to your review board. We would send it to them ourselves but you refuse to disclose who they are. Thank you.
Dear Newark archdiocesan review board members:
Because of the Fr. Michael Fugee case, and other troubling clergy sex abuse and cover up scandals in the Newark Archdiocese, we respectfully urge you to resign. It’s clear that there is something dreadfully wrong with how your archbishop deals with known and suspected child sex crimes by clergy. Time and time again, he has acted recklessly, callously, and deceitfully in situations that require courage, compassion and honesty.
You no doubt joined the board believing and hoping you could help your church. We appreciate your willingness to serve. We submit, however, that at this point, your presence on the board likely hurts your church, by undermining the confidence of Catholics in their local church hierarchy, and by lending credibility to a secretive process that, despite your best intentions, is functioning to solidify a disturbing practice of putting the accused over the accusers and the powerful over the powerless.
For your sake, you should distance yourselves from your archbishop’s troubling behavior and begin to use your skills and commitment to work more transparently and effectively to safeguard kids, expose corruption and deter wrongdoing in other ways, not under the cloud of Archbishop Myers’ actions.
And for the sake of Newark area children, we hope that you will both step down AND speak up – about Fugee, about some of the 39 other publicly accused Newark archdiocesan child molesting clerics, and about how the board actually functions. As you well know, America’s bishops pledged, in 2002 and often since then, to be “open and transparent” in clergy sex cases. When a bishop violates that pledge, we submit, it’s the duty of that bishop’s review board to take action.
(Abuse and cover up thrive in secrecy. So in our experience, it’s almost always beneficial when clergy sex crimes and cover ups are discussed publicly. Therefore, if you aren’t willing to resign at this point, we urge you to at least publicly discuss your tenure and actions on the board, and help all of us better understand how the archdiocese handled and is handling the Fugee case and others. If you are confident that you’ve done the right thing, why not explain that to the growing legions of dismayed Catholics and wounded victims in the Newark Archdiocese?)
We are confident that each of you is a competent person who agreed to be on this panel because you care about children. But we are just as confident that most Catholic officials are unwilling or incapable of truly putting the well-being of families ahead of themselves, their reputations, their careers and what they consider to be the resources and image of the institutional church.
Finally, we’d urge you to ask yourselves this simple question: Why take the risk? Why remain linked to a controversial, troubled archbishop who refuses to
--put proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesting clerics in secure treatment centers,
--post names of proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesting clerics on his website (as some 30 other US prelates have done),
--disclose settlements of clergy sex abuse cases, and
-- as recently as 48 hours ago, let or enabled an admitted child molester, Fr. Fugee, be at a parish with 11 schools or day care centers within a mile.
Finally, we also hope that you will join us in urging your archbishop to:
-- publicize the names of current and future board members, so that victims will be more likely to report clergy sex crimes and so that parishioners and the public can have more confidence in the panel, and
-- give parishioners the chance to vote for board members in the future.
Both moves, we firmly believe, would help the board be more effective and transparent.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
Mark Crawford, New Jersey SNAP Director (732 632 7687, email@example.com)
Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)