The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Priest Found Guilty Of Molesting Boy Is Still in Ministry
He Works At A Church With A School and Boys Club Attached
Group Urges Catholic Archbishop to Remove Him Immediately
Keeping Him In Parish Is "Gross Violation" of Church Sex Abuse Policy
SNAP Urges Others Who Were Hurt To Come Forward
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is publicly urging San Francisco" Catholic archbishop to immediately remove a priest from active parish ministry who was found guilty of child molestation Tuesday by a Bay Area jury. The group is also asking church officials to aggressively reach out to others who may have been hurt by the cleric.
Leaders of a self-help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Archbishop George Niederauer, prodding him to "immediately suspend" Fr. Stephen Whelan, associate pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul church, 666 Filbert Street in St. Louis. The parish has a parochial school and a "boys and girls club."
"You were reckless by failing to suspend Whelan years ago, when this brave victim first came forward," Says the letter. "But keeping him in a parish now, after a jury heard the evidence and found him guilty, is beyond reckless. It violates the simple pledge you and your brother bishops repeatedly make --to put the safety of dozens of kids above the privileges of one adult.
On Tuesday, after a week-long civil trial, a Contra Costa County jury deemed Whelan guilty of repeatedly molesting Joey Piscatelli at Salesian High School in Richmond, CA from 1969-71. Piscatelli, now of Martinez CA, was a freshman and sophomore at the time. The jury awarded him $600,000.
SNAP members are worried that Whelan may be molesting children today.
"It's an outrageous disregard for public safety," said Dan McNevin of San Francisco, SNAP's Bay Area spokesman.
Four years ago, America's bishops pledged to promptly suspend any credibly accused abusive priest. Yet at no point was Whelan suspended. SNAP is outraged that Whelan wasn't even suspended after Tuesday's guilty verdict.
SNAP's strongly worded letter also urges Niederauer to use the archdiocesan website and publications to urge anyone who witnessed, suspected or experienced abuse to contact the police.
"As shepherd of your flock, you have a moral duty to actively reach out to others who may have been hurt by Whelan or may have information about his crimes that could lead to criminal prosecution," SNAP wrote.
Whelan belongs to a religious order called the Salesians. Throughout the church's clergy sex abuse crisis, bishops have often tried to deny responsibility for abusive religious order priests.
But according to church tradition, practice and canon law, an archbishop is responsible for the safety of Catholics in his archdiocese, SNAP stresses, regardless of whether a sex offender is a diocesan or a religious order cleric.
"You can split hairs or you can protect kids. You can and debate which Catholic official signs Whelan's pay check, or you can do what's right, said SNAP's letter.
"If a Salesian priest opened an abortion clinic or married a gay couple, Niederauer wouldn't shrug his shoulders and claim "He's not our guy," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director. "The church is a pyramid, and Niederauer is at the top. He must take responsibility and act now to safeguard innocent kids."
The Salesians themselves have pledged to suspend abusive clergymen. According to a news release from 2004 posted on their Western Province web site, "When a member of the Salesian Congregation is found to have committed sexual abuse, he is removed at once from every pastoral and educative responsibility so that he has no further contact with minors."
Piscatelli was represented by attorney Rick Simons of Hayward (510 582 1080, 510 733 4170).
As of today, Whelan was still listed on the Sts. Peter and Paul web site as associate pastor.
A copy of SNAP" letter to Niederauer is below. It was sent today by fax and e mail.
July 20, 2006
Dear Archbishop Niederauer:
We are shocked and saddened to see that, even after a jury found a priest guilty of sexually assaulting a young boy, this priest is apparently remaining in active parish ministry in your archdiocese.
Archdiocesan staff were reckless by failing to suspend Whelan years ago, when this brave victim first came forward. They were reckless again when they failed to suspend Whelan after this allegation rose to the level of a civil lawsuit.
But keeping him in a parish now, after a jury heard the evidence and found him guilty, is beyond reckless. It violates the simple pledge you and your brother bishops repeatedly make â€ to put the safety of dozens of kids above the privileges of one adult.
Whelan may still profess his innocence and may appeal his conviction. But you know in your heart of hearts that giving him continued access to kids is both wrong and dangerous.
Should you choose to remain silent and take no action now, a strong message will have been sent to Bay Area Catholics, priests and staff. That message: A sexually abusive priest matters more than innocent kids or wounded victims.
This may sound harsh. But that is the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn.
In fact, given that you have been a member of the US bishops conference sex abuse committee, your failure to suspend Whelan is particularly significant and egregious.
If you can ignore with impunity your own allegedly binding national sex abuse policy adopted in Dallas in June of 2002, then that policy, and your promises, are meaningless.
Finally, as shepherd of your flock, you also have a moral duty to actively reach out to others who may have been hurt by Whelan or may have information about his crimes that could lead to criminal prosecution.
You have an obligation to both protect the vulnerable and to heal the wounded. Neither purpose is served when you passively sit back and do nothing, waiting for more victims to call and praying that they do not.
We beg you, Archbishop, to do what Jesus would do â€ take every possible step to compassionately reach out to other possible victims and witnesses, urging them to find the courage to step forward, get help, and report to law enforcement. We beg you to use your archdiocesan web site, newspaper, church bulletins, and staff to strongly prod victims and witnesses to speak up. We beg you to personally visit Sts. Peter and Paul this weekend, lead by example, and emphatically plea with parishioners to help find others who may still be trapped in shame, silence and self-blame.
Children are safe when dangerous men like Whelan are behind bars. It" your duty to help put him there. Victims are healed when they break their silence and get professional help. It" your duty to help them do this.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests