The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to U.S. Bishops
June 15, 2005
Bishop William Skylstad and US Bishops
We write to you on the eve of your national meeting hoping that a desire to protect children and to heal those who have been grievously harmed will override all of your other concerns. We also write to encourage you to continue to put the spirit of the Dallas Charter into further action.
Although we may sometimes appear at odds in what we feel needs to be accomplished to make the church safe for children, we surely agree that we must take every step necessary to identify child sex offenders within the ranks of the clergy.
According to the National Review Boards audit, hundreds of previously unidentified clergy sex offenders were reported to church authorities by victims and witnesses last year alone. That number is a testament to the need to create every incentive we can to bring any individual forward who has suspected, witnessed, or experienced sexual abuse by clergy.
This is a particularly notable achievement since the reporting rate for sexual abuse of children is extremely low, as the Review Boards audit points out in its introduction. In fact, national averages place the reporting rate at under ten percent. That means, as we have all come to learn, that most victims will never report their abuse and when they do, it often takes years, if not decades to do so.
Those victims who do come forward, as your own victim assistance coordinators around the United States are telling you, are often consumed with doubt, shame, and self-blame. Many cannot sleep at night. Many victims have taken the courageous step of coming forward because of their great fear that other children are being harmed.
The difficulties victims face in coming forward are also faced by other witnesses to child sexual abuse.
Many church employees and parishioners, and former employees and parishioners, however, are still very reluctant to report suspected abuse. (Notice how few cases there are in which a priest or church secretary or chancery office staff are cited in news accounts as having called police.) They worry that doing so will only bring more embarrassment to the church or parish they love.
The bishops have spent millions of dollars covering up sex crimes for decades they surely can set up a fund for even $5,000 to offer an incentive to encourage those with information to report it to law enforcement. Even if even one predator is reported, charged and convicted, it will be worth it. We suggest the fund be managed by an independent panel including victims and lay Catholics.
A reporting incentive is a time tested means by which law enforcement around the United States has successfully prosecuted criminal behavior. Such an action would be a strong statement that you are eager and willing to take every step to protect Gods children.
Bishops cannot continue to sit back and wait for victims and witnesses to come forward.
Additionally, we believe that you should personally visit each parish where a credibly accused priest has worked and emphatically beg anyone with information to contact police, prosecutors, therapists or self-help groups. This should be mandated by the US Bishops Conference sex abuse policy, whish is set to be revised this week.
Please show your commitment to children by taking proactive steps to reach out.
Peter J. Isely, SNAP Board Member & Midwest Regional Leader, 414 429 7259
Barbara A. Blaine, SNAP President, 312 399 4747
David G. Clohessy, SNAP National Director, 314 566 9790
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests