The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to Bishops Ricken and Finn
August 26, 2005
Bishop David Ricken, Diocese of Cheyenne, WY
Dear Bishops Ricken and Finn:
Today, the fifth civil child sex abuse lawsuit is being filed against Bishop Joseph Hart. We feel certain that other victims of his have approached church authorities but have not taken legal action. And, we strongly believe others who have been hurt by him have yet to come forward, and are suffering today in shame, isolation and blame.
Today, we are urging you to:
1) Work harder to reach and help anyone who was assaulted by Hart, and;
Regardless of your personal beliefs about Hart, surely you would agree that five separate molestation lawsuits constitute "credible allegations." Surely you must concede the possibility that at least one of these individuals is telling the truth. If that's the case, on a practical level, shouldn't you try and ascertain the truth of these allegations? On a moral level, shouldn't you do as Jesus taught us and actively reach out to any of the lost and wounded sheep, the boys who may have been raped or sodomized by Hart? Don't you owe this to the Catholics you serve?
Our request is inexpensive, simple and has worked elsewhere. We call on you to use your Diocesan newspaper, web site, church bulletins and other resources to strongly, specifically and repeatedly encourage anyone who witnessed, suspected or experienced sex crimes by Hart to contact the police.
So far, you have continued down the same worn, hurtful and self-destructive path followed by so many of your colleagues: passively sitting back, waiting for victims to call. Sure, when an abuse story hits the newspapers, your public relations staff trots out the same tired, hollow-sounding call to come to church officials if you've been victimized. (Often, little or no mention is made of reporting to the independent professionals in law enforcement or the availability of independent sources of support and help like our group). But you've done little to actively look for those who may be in pain and offer them the support and encouragement they need to begin to heal and begin to safeguard others by exposing their abusers.
You know that actions speak louder than words. You know that a direct, personal appeal from you to your flock would be far more effective. You know you can do more to break through the long-standing but unhealthy climate of secrecy that has allowed tens of thousands of innocent children to be sexually assaulted by thousands of Catholic Clerics, a climate that won't be changed by a few sentences in a few news releases.
So, we call on you, Bishop Ricken, to personally stand in your Cathedral pulpit and prod witnesses and victims to break their silence. We call on you, Bishop Finn, to go to each parish where Hart worked and do likewise. If you genuinely want you diocese to be safer, why not lead by example? Why not set a tone, an atmosphere in which disclosure, not secrecy is valued?
Our second request is even more simple. We ask that you remove Bishop Hart's name from the wing at St. Joseph's. Honoring him in this way was no doubt well - intentioned. At the same time, however, for at least four reasons, it has become both unwise and unhealthy.
First, this insensitive move discourages often already depressed and hopeless victims from reporting the crimes they've experienced (either by Hart or other predators). Kids are safe when molesters are exposed and reported. But when victims see officials rallying around molesters, discounting and denying their crimes, and prematurely determining that they are "innocent," it is terribly hurtful and distressing. It's even more upsetting when an accused molester is publicly honored in this way. Think of it this way. Somewhere in the Cheyenne Diocese or the Kansas City Diocese, a teenaged girl is being sexually abused by her stepfather right now. He warns her, "If you tell anyone, they won't believe you." She struggles about whether to disclose. Then she attends church or reads in the diocesan newspaper that Bishop Hart, despite five separate allegations of child sexual abuse, is being praised and rewarded. She shrugs her shoulders and decides to keep silent because it seems like her stepfather is right.
Second, this intimidation may deter criminal prosecution of Hart. A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling is allowing some older molestation cases (even back in the 1960's and 1970's) to proceed. Some of Hart's alleged crimes happened during this period. So it's possible that he might be criminally charged, convicted and locked up so that kids are safe. But only if his victims feel they'll be taken seriously and find the courage to step forward. Publicly honoring Hart will make the already tough work of police and prosecutors even harder.
Third, think of your own flocks. In just three years, Hart has been sued at least five times. Who knows how many other will come forward? How will Wyoming or Missouri Catholics feel when the 15th victim files a lawsuit? Or the 25th victim? Or when he is brought to a civil trial? Or when Hart is criminally charged?
Any of this could happen. The pain and betrayal that many in your dioceses already feel would only be deepened. Removing Hart's name simply means you're open-minded. It means you are being prudent and reserving judgment. It means you are not taking sides. It means you are erring on the side of caution.
Keeping his name on the center, on the other hand, means you've rushed to judgment, valued a cleric over a child, and don't mind the possibility of intimidatin g an abused child or wounded grown up who is considering reporting a molester.
Finally, you must realize that having a credibly accused abusive cleric honored in this way rubs salt into the already deep wounds of his victims. Can you imagine what it must feel like to have been sexually assaulted by a powerful church leader, found the strength and courage to report such a devastating crime, only to be told that your perpetrator now holds a place of prestige and honor at the church - run orphanage?
Over the past 16 years, we've usually been ignored or rebuffed when we've asked bishops to help victims heal and help prevent abuse by adopting real reforms. Among dozens of other suggestions, we've asked bishops to:
- Publicly name and permanently post the proven, admitted and credibly
accused priests on church websites.
We, of course, still want you to adopt these reforms. But, if you won't take these inexpensive, common sense steps, won't you at least stop publicly honoring a credibly accused child molester? Is that too much to ask?
We hope to hear from you soon.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests