The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Sex Abuse Victims Start Self-help Support Groups
They Focus on Healing And Prevention
Organizers Hope To Reach Those "Suffering in Silence, Shame and Self Blame"
Three cities in Tennessee - Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis - now have support group meetings for men and women who have been sexually victimized by clergy, organized by a nation-wide organization called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"We want to provide compassion, support, and understanding for victims of abuse and their families," said Ann Brentwood of Knoxville, SNAP of Tennessee Co-director "In our self-help meetings, victims can freely speak, often for the first time, with others who have experienced the same trauma."
"These self-help meetings, run by well-trained counselors, are focused purely on healing," said Susan Vance of Knoxville, SNAP of Tennessee Co-director. "We hope that victims will find this an avenue of healing."
SNAP was founded by a Chicago social worker, Barbara Blaine, in 1988. It is the nation's oldest and largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse with support groups in over 60 cities nation wide.
Last summer, the group asked the Memphis' bishop to circulate information about their group through the diocese, using the church's web site, weekly newspaper and parish bulletins. He declined.
"Some bishops seem to fear abuse victims talking with one another," said Vance. "But thousands across the country have been helped in their recovery "
In October 2004, SNAP sponsored "Breaking the Silence Week," featuring a statewide speaking tour by a Minnesota man who had been repeatedly victimized by former Knoxville Bishop Anthony O'Connell. The victim, Michael Wegs of St. Paul, attended the Hannibal Missouri seminary O'Connell once headed. Wegs was one of several former seminarians who filed civil lawsuits against O'Connell and the Jefferson City Missouri diocese. Last year, his lawsuit was settled for $20,000. O'Connell has never paid Wegs his personal court-ordered portion of the settlement.
During that week, members of SNAP also alerted Clarksville, Tennessee, residents about an abusive Cincinnati priest who had recently moved to town in February 2004. The cleric, Fr. David Kelley, faces 38 civil lawsuits in Ohio.
"Kids who were sexually assaulted by priests were helpless. As adults, they aren't helpless, and it often helps them to take action that protect other children," explained Vance. "Warning parents about a dangerous man can be a positive part of healing someone who's been terribly wounded."
Still, she stressed that 90% of the group's efforts focus on the support group meetings, not on public awareness.
Despite the word 'priest' in SNAP's title, "We welcome people who have been sexually victimized or exploited by any clergy," said Brentwood. "We seek truth through openess. Until the problem is honestly acknowledged it will never be corrected, and survivors will not receive the help they need."
To learn more about the group or the self-help meetings, call Brentwood
at 865 984-7092, Vance at 865 748-3518, or see their Tennessee web site,
Rememberthesurvivors.com - or the national web site - SNAPnetwork.org
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests