The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to Bishop Latino
August 14, 2003
Dear Bishop Latino:
In our 13 years of working to support and help heal victims of clergy sexual abuse, much has been written and said about SNAP. But rarely have we read such insensitive comments from a church official as your quotes in today's Associated Press story.
The notion that somehow our organization has, in your words "made victims again" is ludicrous and hurtful. It is precisely the dangerous and disingenuous "blame the victim" attitude that has helped enable the abuse of so many for so long.
Let me share a few facts with you. SNAP serves 4,600 abuse victims and their families, both here and abroad. Each month, in more than 50 cities across this country, wounded men and women find comfort, solace and understanding in our confidential, independent support group meetings. Every day, hundreds more find healing through our on-line support group, accessible through our web site: SNAPnetwork.org). We are proud to play a role in the recovery of many who have suffered, continue to suffer, and feel they have no place else to turn.
As one of those victims, abused for four years by a trusted Catholic priest, I too have found strength and support from my brothers and sisters in SNAP. One valuable lesson I continue learning from them is the importance of being (in the face of so much horror) thankful for little things.
I am thankful that your apparent view of our group is such an isolated one.
One of your fellow bishops has donated thousands to our organization. Another of your colleagues has helped promote our support group to victims in his diocese through his diocese's newspaper. Another put a link to the SNAP web site on the diocesan web site. Another has put a SNAP member on his diocese's law review board that examines abuse allegations against clergy. Dozens of bishops have meet with SNAP members. I could go on and on.
None, to my knowledge, has ever publicly asserted that we "made victims again" by our work.
Let me also comment on the legal strategy you have chosen in responding to abuse victims. My local newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, contains an editorial this morning praising new Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley: "O'Malley said the archdiocese would not hide behind statutes of limitations or claims to special protection for the church." Yet I look at today's Clarion-Ledger and read that you are using the same old hardball tactic of hiding behind legal technicalities like the statute of limitations to prevent victims from even seeking justice.
Thankfully, I also read in today's Clarion-Ledger the wisdom of SNAP leader Johnny Rainer: "Actions speak louder than words." If you are genuinely interested in helping victims recover from our horrific pain, Bishop Latino, then I suggest you start by taking the same action Archbishop O'Malley has, and stop behaving like a callous corporation, and do the right thing.
Some might interpret your disparaging remarks about our self-help group as being designed to keep victims of abusive clergy locked in secrecy, silence and shame. From my perspective, it certainly seems as though you want to deter hurting molestation victims from coming forward and getting the help they need and deserve from perhaps the best possible source: others who have walked in their shoes and want to reach out and empathize.
But we truly don't know what is in your heart. We'd like to believe that you area a man of good will, but only time will tell what your true intentions are. But, in the interest of healing and justice, we strongly urge you to take immediate, concrete steps to undo the harm you have done by your intemperate remarks.
In the same interview where you claim not to know the number of settlements or how much money was involved, you publicly tout your "new policy" on abuse. But regardless of what words you, your defense lawyer, and your PR person put on paper, Mr. Rainer is right: actions do speak louder than words. Why not help victims, rather than attack them?
In the eyes of some, perhaps many, of your flock, the brave Mississippi men and women who were severely victimized by abusive clergy, yet keep coming forward to make children safer, are genuine heroes. I am deeply honored to know some of them. They are an inspiration to others who struggle daily with depression and suicidal thoughts but cannot yet move toward healing. These courageous SNAP members deserve your admiration and gratitude, not your insults. May you someday come to recognize the contributions they are making to protect the most vulnerable members of your archdiocese.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests