The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla
Sept. 15, 2004
Dear Bishop Pilla:
We in SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urge you to take three simple steps to make your diocese safer and to help victims heal.
First, we would like you to post the state abuse hotline phone number and/or similar law enforcement phone numbers in churches, parochial schools. Such numbers should also be publicized on the diocese's web site and in the diocesan weekly newspaper and other church-sponsored publications.
Second, we encourage you to appoint a member of our support group to the diocese's abuse review board.
Third, we ask that you actively solicit parishioner and victim input prior to an upcoming "audit" of the diocese.
Looking at your website and other church material, people who witness or experience sexual abuse are still being urged to contact diocesan officials, not police and prosecutors. This, we feel, is unwise and in fact risky. The abuse of children is a crime. It should be treated as a crime. Anyone with information or suspicions about child molestation should repeatedly and emphatically be encouraged to call the independent professionals in law enforcement, not church staff members.
This, frankly, is one of the reasons literally tens of thousands of Catholic youngsters have been molested by thousands of abusive clerics "the temptation and tendency to keep reports of such crimes â€in house." Even well-intentioned church employees often lack the objectivity and experience that police and prosecutors bring to such sensitive matters. It is imperative that church staff members and volunteers, from top to bottom, be clearly instructed to turn to the professionals when even a hint of possible sexual misconduct surfaces. Doing anything less needlessly puts children at risk.
SNAP would like to see more diocesan outreach to abuse victims, including personal and pastoral visits by you to every parish where a known or suspected abusive cleric worked. But in the short term, we strongly urge you to take this simple, long-overdue step.
As you know, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation's largest self-help group for people molested by religious figures. For more than a year, our chapter in Cleveland has listened to and supported dozens of adults who were molested as children by local clergy.
We believe that the perspective that one of our members could bring to your review process would be very helpful.
Abusers can only be removed from ministry when brave victims come forward. Yet some victims are skeptical of disclosing these crimes to a panel consisting entirely of your appointees. So to be effective at safeguarding youngsters, that panel must be perceived as both fair and sympathetic.
If a SNAP member is chosen, we feel that it is more likely that other victims will be more apt to cooperate with the panel and take the risk of reporting their abuse.
Again, we also feel that the lessons we have learned, dealing day in and day out with wounded victims firsthand, could prove very beneficial to the board.
Finally, in the weeks ahead, a team of national "auditors" will examine how the diocese is handling abuse claims. As you know, many victims and lay Catholics are highly skeptical of this process, and believe that bishops have intentionally set very minimal standards and expectations. We in SNAP also worry about how thorough and accurate the information is that these "auditors" will receive.
This upcoming survey provides you with another opportunity to invite anyone who experienced, witnessed or suspected abuse to break their silence and share what they know.
We strongly urge you to use the diocesan website, newspaper and publications to aggressively publicize the "audit" and urge anyone with information about abuse to come forward now.
Much like a government entity holding a public hearing to solicit advice and information from citizens, the diocese should openly, publicly seek knowledge about long-hidden crimes. This will instill confidence in the audit process and can only be healing for the church as a whole.
When victims and knowledgeable Catholics speak up, kids can be safeguarded and healing can take place, SNAP believes.
SNAP, as you know, is a support group. Our first goal is to help men and women heal from the incredible trauma of childhood victimization at the hands of trusted clergymen.
Our second goal is to do all we can to make sure no other youngster suffers as we have. That is why we make these requests in the hopes that one more innocent child is spared.
We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you very much.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests