The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Child Molestation Victims Seek Meeting With National Catholic Panel
Recent Chicago Abuse Disclosures "Warrant Prompt Action," SNAP Says
Group Announces New Web Site Listing Accused Priests' Names
Clergy child molestation victims want to meet this weekend with a national Catholic panel to discuss what they call Cardinal Francis George"s "severe mishandling" of recent cases involving allegedly abusive priests.
Leaders of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are asking for a chance to talk with the National Review Board, which gathers in Austin this Friday and Saturday. The board, which consists of lay Catholics appointed by America"s Catholic bishops, was set up in 2002 to monitor whether bishops are living up to the national sex abuse policy adopted in Dallas in June 2002.
Seven credibly accused abusive Chicago priests have been exposed in the last three weeks. Three of them remained in active ministry until a week or two ago, despite earlier allegations. All but one face several accusers. The last three were exposed Saturday, when a woman announced her $125,000 settlement against the archdiocese.
"Cardinal George, the US Bishops Conference vice president, kept two priests in active ministry for years after abuse allegations surfaced. At least one of them kept right on molesting boys." said Barbara Dorris, SNAP"s Outreach Director. "George claims to have lost records of a nun"s abuse report, and claims a young victim"s mother didn"t contact church officials. Both women have publicly disputed his statements. But George refuses to address these disturbing contradictions."
In a letter sent this morning to the National Review Board members, including the group's chair, Dr. Patricia Ewers of Chicago, SNAP says it suspects what is happening in Chicago is happening in other US dioceses. Names of seven credibly accused abusive priests have been made public in the Chicago archdiocese in the last three weeks, primarily because of criminal charges, civil lawsuits and disclosures by victims.
"Right next door in the Joliet Diocese, the same thing has happened: a priest was kept in ministry until a week ago, despite at least one allegation of child molestation that was made months ago," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP"s national director. "If two veteran Illinois bishops are admitting they"re keeping accused priests in parishes, and are allegedly secretly appointing priests to "monitor" possible pedophiles, it's likely other bishops are doing the same."
The victims group is not mollified by yesterday"s announcement by the archdiocese.
"George"s decision to promote, not disciplin, a key staffer and to make more vague promises to do better next time are little reassurance to anyone," said Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, another SNAP leader. He is referring to Jimmy Lago, the Chicago archdiocesan chancellor, who was tapped by George to oversee abuse cases in the future. "Church officials have had decades to learn, yet some still insist on protecting one adult"s reputation more than dozens of kids' safety."
SNAP is also setting up a new website, abusiveclerics.org, which will be launched tomorrow and will list the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused abusive Chicago clerics. The group is frustrated by George's refusal to release such information despite repeated requests.
"We'll start with the seven new names that have been exposed in just the last three weeks," said Dorris. 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. Each has been identified in one or more news accounts recently. "Knowing the proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics will help parents and employers protect kids. It's sad that this burden falls on us, the victims. But since Cardinal George won't do what's right, we'll step up to the plate."
In the last two weeks, SNAP has also publicly called on:
-- Cardinal George to personally start visit churches where McCormack and 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."
-- Gary Indiana Bishop Dale J. Melczek to look into whether McCormack may have molested children in that diocese, where the priest has family and has been involved in some church functions. Melczek has refused to do so.
SNAP realizes that getting National Review Board members to listen or take action against George is unlikely.
"Increasingly, this supposed watchdog has become a lapdog," said Dorris. "They apparently view their role in the most narrow and legalistic way possible, so there are no sanctions or penalties or even verbal censure, no matter how badly a bishop misbehaves."
Still, SNAP leaders say they have no choice but to try and sit down with the board.
"The board is supposed to hold bishops accountable, to be the voice of the laity prodding bishops to do better," said Clohessy. "We can just keep pushing and hoping that they'll take their mandate seriously and do something."
A copy of SNAP"s letter, sent today via fax and e mail to several NRB members, is below:
Feb. 16, 2006
Dear Review Board Member:
In the last three weeks, Chicagoans have learned of seven new credibly accused abusive priests. Three of them remained in active ministry until a week or two ago, despite earlier allegations. All but one face several accusers.
One of the priests (Fr. Daniel McCormack) was first accused in 2000. Another (Fr. Joseph Bennett) was apparently first accused two years ago. Neither, however, was removed from parish work. None of the allegations were publicly disclosed.
According to today's Chicago Tribune, McCormack kept right on molesting. He was able to do so because Cardinal George did little or nothing in response to two separate allegations against him. (George now claims he secretly appointed a priest to "monitor" both McCormack and Bennett, though he has produced no evidence to prove that he in fact did so.)
In our view, George has violated the two fundamental pledges US bishops made in Dallas in 2002: to promptly remove credibly accused priests and to be more open and transparent.
-- Cardinal George claims there were no earlier allegations against Fr. McCormack. A nun disputes this. She told the Chicago Sun Times that she reported McCormack"s abusive actions, verbally and in writing, to several church officials six years ago.
The Cardinal has not explained this inconsistency.
-- Cardinal George claims 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
The Cardinal has not explained this inconsistency.
Instead, George has engaged in the all-too-familiar finger-pointing and blame-shifting. He or his spokesmen have blamed a victim"s mother (for calling the police, not the archdiocese), police (for not sharing information with the archdiocese), and our organization (for urging victims to call law enforcement before church officials). Frankly, his story has changed several times. But his latest fixation is on the allegedly vague policy that supposedly "tied his hands" and prevented him from removing accused priests sooner. This, of course, is the policy that he helped draft.
Sadly, after years and years of scandal, we have become convinced it's not the church's procedures that are flawed, it's the church's leadership that's flawed. And it will remain flawed until lay people insist on real change. As a member of the National Review Board, you are in the best position to insist on that change.
We believe "where there's a will, there"s a way," and that if the Cardinal truly valued the safety of dozens of kids (more than the reputation of one adult), he would have removed Fr. Bennett and Fr. McCormack months or even years ago. We believe that responsible adults will not accept his excuses-making, and should insist on real consequences for such irresponsible, reckless behavior. Remember, we"re not talking about potential harm, but actual harm. At least one young Chicago boy, and probably several, are hurting now because of Cardinal violated the Dallas Charter and instead apparently devised his own plan of allegedly and secretly appointing priests to "monitor" accused priests.
This disturbing situation cries out for prompt action, we believe, by your board. At the very least, we ask that you take some time this weekend to learn from us more about George"s severe mishandling of these recent situations.
P. S. The seven recently disclosed child molesting clerics 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 remained in active ministry until the last few days or weeks. The first three were exposed Saturday, when a woman announced her $125,000 settlement against the archdiocese: http://www.wbbm780.com/pages/7192.php
All of their names have been disclosed in news accounts in Chicago in the last three weeks, thanks only to criminal charges, civil lawsuits, and courageous victims.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests