A support group for victims of clergy sex abuse is calling on Stockton’s Catholic bishop to “rein in his flock” after parishioners rallied around a priest who was found guilty of sexually molesting an altar boy.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Bishop Stephen Blaire about some church-goers at St. Joachim Parish in Lockeford who are backing Fr. Michael Kelly. After a two month civil trial, jurors determined that Kelly sexually abused a child.
SNAP says that the public actions by parishioners – both during the trial and since – have been insensitive to victims and will likely deter others who may have seen, suspected, or suffered child sex crimes from coming forward.
During the trial, a minority of parishioners from St. Joachim and elsewhere packed the courthouse in support of Kelly. One parishioner approached a member of the jury, trying to persuade him to let Kelly go. Some of Kelly’s backers have also written letters to newspapers admonishing those who have accused Kelly of wrongdoing.
“It’s dangerous because it creates a hostile atmosphere where others who may have knowledge of this abuse, or other abuse, will be afraid to come forward,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP’s director. “Bishop Blaire should step forward to rein in his flock and help them find ways to show support for their priest that don’t involve intimidating victims.”
SNAP is encouraging parishioners to NOT hold future rallies either in their parishes or near the courtroom in an effort to prevent victims and witnesses from being intimidated. They also are sending a letter to Bishop Blaire to encourage him to prevent the further stifling of victims.
With the second half of the trial – the phase in which the possible culpability of Stockton church officials will be determined – set to begin on Wednesday, April 10, SNAP is hopes that the bishop will use his influence to help prevent the trial from becoming a spectacle.
“We want the truth to come out,” said Clohessy, “and if folks are too afraid to come forward then it will stay buried. We urge the bishop to do everything in his power to allow the justice process to continue without interruptions or tampering.”
The Diocese is being represented by Thomas Beatty of the McNamara Law Firm. Beatty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 707.427.3998. The Diocese of Stockton can be reached at 209.466.0636.