An international support group for clergy sex abuse victims wants Pope Benedict to reverse his decision and pick a different individual to head the Vatican’s abuse office.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, plan to write the pontiff, urging him to rescind his selection of a Boston priest to the post and choose a parent instead.
One week ago, Benedict announced Fr. Robert Oliver’s promotion, despite concerns by victims and advocates about his ties to controversial Cardinal Bernard Law and his role in the handling of pedophile priest cases in Boston.
“Oliver is an awful pick,” said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP’s president.
Oliver has shaped the Boston archdiocese's handling of abuse cases for the last decade. Four basic charges are being leveled against him:
1. He eliminated a provision requiring the immediate removal of accused priests.
2. He limited victims' access to the archdiocese's files on their cases.
3. Under his leadership, the archdiocese ‘cleared’ a very high percentage of accused priests.
4. Under his leadership, the church tribunal has failed to rule on the cases of 15 accused priests.
--According to the Boston Herald, in 2003, Oliver “said the church went too far in immediately removing priests from their public ministries once they were accused of abuse. He implemented a new policy stripping them of duties only after claims are investigated.”
--That same year, the Herald reports, Oliver helped “revise an archdiocese policy, altering it to curtail access by alleged victims of abuse to church records — a move that surprised lay leaders who sat on the Cardinal’s Commission for the Protection of Children.”
--According to research by a Boston-based research group called BishopAccountability.org, Boston Catholic officials, including Oliver, “cleared” 45% of 71 accused predator priests, a percentage dramatically higher than almost all other dioceses (which have a roughly 10% “clearance” percentage”)
-- According to the Boston Globe, each of the three accused priests whose cases “have gone to full (church) trials since 2002 were exonerated, and the archdiocesan court is still struggling to adjudicate a backlog of sexual abuse cases against priests. Fifteen cases have been languishing since 2004 or earlier.”
--Oliver was ordained by and worked under Law, so his elevation, SNAP says, inevitably causes more dismay to victims and Catholics.
“Based on what he’s said and done, and where he’s from and who he’s tied to, Oliver is a terrible choice for this crucial post,” said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP’s president. “In some ways, it’s hard to imagine a more insensitive and inappropriate selection.”
Oliver was ordained in 2000 by Cardinal Bernard Law and worked with him for at least two years. Blaine says that perhaps no other Catholic official on earth has been “more widely and appropriately” vilified for “ignoring, minimizing, concealing and enabling thousands of dreadful sexual assaults by hundreds of child molesting clerics,” than Law.
And there thousands of Catholic dioceses across the world, she notes, “few, if any, with such an extensive and well-documented history of heinous crimes and cover-ups like Boston.”
There are “perhaps tens of thousands of qualified canon lawyers, both lay and ordained” who Benedict might have picked for this position, she maintains.
“Simple common sense and common decency would have led a caring leader to say ‘Let’s pick a person from somewhere else, ordained by someone else, and who has worked with someone else,’” Blaine suggested. “Only the most callous person would deliberately pick a man who’s part of the problem, not the solution, in one of the globe’s most historically corrupt dioceses.”
“Whether Oliver worked with Law for years or decades is irrelevant,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP’s Director. “The fact is that Oliver is part of the deeply flawed and still flawed Boston archdiocesan abuse response. And his promotion only adds to the intense pain and betrayal heaped on countless child sex abuse victims and their loved ones, not to mention millions of disillusioned Catholics.”
“There are also hundreds of lay people – many of them parents – who could have brought a sorely-needed, non-celibate perspective to this crisis,” Clohessy said. “Tens of thousands of allegedly celibate priests have abused hundreds of thousands of kids. Thousands of allegedly celibate bishops hid the crimes. So wouldn’t it make sense to have a mother or father more involved in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases?”
Not choosing a lay person, he said, “is proof that Vatican officials really don’t want reform.”
Ten years ago, Law resigned as the highest ranking Catholic official in the Boston archdiocese. He is the only US bishop to ever step down because of his role in covering up heinous child sex crimes. (No US bishop has ever been punished by the church hierarchy because of the abuse crisis.)
Still, SNAP says that Law remains an extraordinarily powerful figure, living and working in the literal and figurative power center of Catholicism. Until his recent retirement, he was on six or eight important Vatican committees, including the one that recommended candidates for bishops across the globe. And he helped pick Pope Benedict, SNAP notes.
Oliver hails from another controversial diocese. He’s a Bay Shore, N.Y. native, located in the Rockville Centre diocese. In 2003, that diocese was harshly criticized in a grand jury report. It focused less on older crimes and more on recent moves by top church officials to keep crimes hidden, victims silent and parishioners confused.
Only once in SNAP’s 24 year history has the group asked a pope to rescind an appointment. In 2011, the organization prodded Benedict to reverse his promotion of Joliet Bishop Peter Sartain to head the Seattle archdiocese. Sartain had recently ordained a clearly sexually troubled seminarian, Fr. Alejandro Flores, who went on to molest children.
The pontiff ignored SNAP’s letter.
SNAP, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse with support groups in over 60 cities in seven countries.