The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
For immediate release:
For more information:
Sex Abuse Victims Want George to NOT Change Policy Yet
SNAP Asks For "Action, Not Words," Fearing Complacency
They Urge Cardinal George To Consult More Widely
"Visit Hurting Parishes," Support Group Urges Cardinal
Clergy sex abuse victims are urging Chicago Catholic officials to "resist the temptation to change words on paper" and hold off on changing their sex abuse policy until they have more widely consulted with experts and victims and taken more steps to reach out to victims.
Instead, they want Cardinal Francis George to take "prompt pastoral" action to prod victims to report abuse.
In a letter sent today to the Cardinal, leaders of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, want George to:
-- personally start visiting churches this weekend where Fr. Daniel McCormack and Fr. Joseph Bennett have been assigned, emphatically reminding Catholics that they have a moral and civic duty to disclose anything they know about these allegations to law enforcement," and
-- meet with a wider circle of independent experts and victims before revising his abuse guidelines.
For two weeks, George"s staff has said they are considering changes to the archdiocesan policy. But that's not really the problem, SNAP maintains.
"It"s the Cardinal's flawed actions, not his flawed policies," said Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, a SNAP leader. "Words on paper don't protect kids, decisive action protects kids. But George"s actions are about protecting priests' reputations, not children's safety."
"Bishops under fire insist on self-diagnosing and self-medicating, instead of sitting down with outside experts," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, founder of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The Cardinal claims his policies are flawed. We disagree. But if he relies on the same advisors and process, he'll get the same outcome. It's time he widens his circle."
A copy of SNAP"s letter, sent today via fax and e mail to George, is below:
February 13, 2006
Dear Cardinal George:
In the last three weeks, Chicagoans have learned of seven new credibly accused abusive priests.
They include Fr. John Rohrick, Fr. Howard Strum, Fr. Paul O"Toole, Msgr. Dominic Diederich, Fr. Joseph Bennett, Fr. William J. Spine and Fr. Daniel McCormack.
The latter three (Bennett, Spine, and McCormack) remained in active ministry until the last few days or weeks. The first three (Rohrick, Strum, and O"Toole) were exposed Saturday, when a woman announced her once-secret $125,000 settlement against the archdiocese: http://www.wbbm780.com/pages/7192.php
At least two of them " Bennett and McCormack " were apparently first accused years ago. Both were allegedly secretly being monitored by fellow priests (even though there are no such provision for such an arrangement in the US Bishops Conference abuse policy adopted in Dallas).
We bring all this up in light of your apparent plan to announce yet another "reform" in your local sex abuse policy soon. We ask you to reconsider. Changing your policy at this point, we believe, is deceptive and will lead only to a false, premature complacency on the part of some.
In 2002, bishops faced tremendous pressure to do something about the horrifying clergy sex abuse and cover up scandal that dominating the nation's headlines. Bishops hurriedly and arrogantly self-diagnosed and self-medicated, insisting that they understood both the problem and its solution.
That was probably good public relations. But it was bad public policy. We ask you to please not make this same mistake again.
Your alleged rationale for again revising your policy is that you supposedly couldn't remove McCormack or Bennett sooner. We think this is ridiculous.
The Catholic church is a monarchy. In Chicago, you are the king. Priests have no union. You can suspend a priest anytime for anything. To claim otherwise is ludicrous. (Does anyone really think these priests would have remained in active ministry for years while your staff allegedly investigated allegations that they stole money or advocated abortion?)
We believe "where there"s a will, there's a way," and that if you truly valued the safety of dozens of kids (more than the reputation of one adult), you would have removed Fr. Bennett and Fr. McCormack months or even years ago.
Apparently, you soon plan to try and shift attention from your behavior to your policy. But before doing this, Cardinal, we respectfully ask that you address some key unresolved questions about these recent scandals:
1) You claimed there were no earlier allegations against Fr. McCormack. A nun disputes this. She says she reported McCormack"s abusive actions, verbally and in writing, to several church officials six years ago.
2) You claimed the family of a McCormack victim who came forward last August never contacted church officials. That mother disputes this. She says she "called the archdiocese to report the allegations within days of learning of the abuse and going to police in late August" and she "talked to archdiocesan officials on at least three occasions in September -- twice by phone, and once in person at a meeting with a teacher and a principal." http://www.suntimes.com/output/news/cst-nws-mom07.html
3) You claim that McCormack and Bennett were "monitored" by other priests. Yet you've produced not a single shred of evidence to back up this claim. Will you disclose the written instructions you secretly gave these alleged "monitors" and the documents explaining why you've deviated from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops" policies by devising a secret monitoring arrangement?
Instead of "revisiting" your policy this week, we recommend action, not words. Specifically, instead of "tweaking" your apparently ignored policy, we urge you to
-- Hold meetings at other wounded parishes like the one you held at St. Agatha's. As best we can tell, you have not visited any of the other parishes where these seven accused priests worked.
-- Get input from truly independent experts in the field of child sexual abuse and prosecution, not just a handpicked few. We'll be glad to sit down with you ourselves, and recommend some non-Catholic authorities from outside of Chicago who can give you good advice based on years of experience.
-- Finally, we urge you to educate your flock. Please let them know that the enemy is not the news media or some nameless "enemies of the church." The enemy is complacency. It's the tempting but dangerous assumption that decades of abuse and secrecy have suddenly and magically been reversed, in just three short years, by the very men who got us into this mess to begin with. But that"s naieve. We beg you to tell our parishioners this.
Complacency protects no one. Only vigilance protects kids.
Cardinal George, after years and years of scandal, we have sadly become convinced it's not the church's procedures that are flawed, it's the church's leadership that is flawed. (And it will remain flawed until lay people insist on real change, not cosmetic, paper "reforms.")
Again, we urge you to lead by constructive action, not comforting words.
If you persist in announcing yet another "policy change," and trying to pass it off as another allegedly significant "reform," we ask that you consider the example you"re setting for young Catholics.
As young Catholics, we're taught to take responsibility for our sins. We aren't allowed to enter the confessional and say "I meant well, but my process was insufficient."
Nor are we allowed to avoid consequences for our sins by saying "I've apologized, and I've fixed my process now."
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests