Why do sex abuse allegations take so long to surface? Is the Church doing a better job screening clergy who take positions involving children?

Why do sex abuse allegations take so long to surface? Is the Church doing a better job screening clergy who take positions involving children?

A number of journalists in this area, including this writer, recall being campers at Camp Ondessonk in the Belleville Diocese in the 1960s. We recall veteran campers at that time warning us to "stay away" from camp director, the Rev. Robert Vonnahmen. But it took years until allegations about Vonnahmen surfaced and he was relieved of his duties. Why do sex abuse allegations take so long to surface? Is the Church doing a better job screening clergy who take positions involving children? Is SNAP satisfied with the way the Vonnahmen case was handled by Belleville?

A:

Reports of abuse take many years because of the severity of the trauma and the high and valued social position of the offender. Those two factors virtually ensure that reports may take years, if it all, to surface.

Sometimes, survivors do not understand they have been harmed. (Remember, we are talking about children who often lack the context and/or vocabulary to comprehend that a crime is being perpetrated against them.) Sometimes, as a coping mechanism, survivors repress. deny or minimize the experiences. ("Sure, Father Jack tried to put his mouth on my penis a couple of times, but I fought him off.") Only after long bouts of depression, struggles with addictions, many failed relationships or years of therapy do some survivors finally realize they've been victimized and are still hurt by the trauma.

In addition, many survivors who did disclose their abuse years ago were not believed by parents, church leaders or criminal authorities. Thankfully, some of these brave men and women are now coming forward a second time. We pray they get the healing, affirmation and validation they deserve.

While Vonnahmen has been permanently removed as a priest, it is troubling that he continues to wear his Roman collar and run large corporations that lead the public to believe that they are Catholic institutions. Bishop Wilton Gregory can and should take further steps to disassociate his diocese from Vonnahmen's enterprises and warn Catholics of his predatory behavior.

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