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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Release
Giving Voice to Victims

 

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, April 10, 2008

For More Information:
David Clohessy, National Director, SNAP, 314 566 9790 cell
Barbara Blaine, President, SNAP, 312 399 4747

Clergy sex abuse victims ask bishop to skip Pope's visit

Top Yakima Catholic official says 'job duties' prevent self-suspension

So support group urges Sevilla 'Skip papal trip, stay home & work as 'penance'

It also discloses court records of a local priest who pled guilty to child sex abuse

SNAP is upset that church officials have kept it secret even after pledging 'openness'

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging Yakima's Catholic bishop to 'stay home next week' instead of visiting with the Pope and to 'come clean' about a priest who pled guilty to child sex charges in 2003 but apparently has not been suspended, defrocked or exposed by church officials.

Leaders of a Chicago-bases support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, have obtained and are making public four pages of court records from Morrow County, Oregon, about Fr. Jose Joaquin Estrada Arango, a Yakima priest. The documents show that Estrada pled guilty to attempted felonious sexual assault of a then 14-year-old girl, and agreed to be deported.

In a letter sent today to Bishop Carlos Sevilla, SNAP blasts the prelate for hiding Estrada's criminal charges and conviction from Yakima citizens and Catholics.

"Most bishops disclose child sex allegations against their priests, and virtually every bishop discloses child sex convictions," said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP's outreach director. "This may be the only case in the last few years in which a bishop hid the arrest and guilty plea of a child- molesting cleric. It's extraordinarily hard to imagine how Sevilla justifies this, especially since it happened AFTER every US bishop pledged to be open about child sex crimes in 2002."

"Like the recent Gonzalez scandal, you've again essentially deceived your flock, but this time not with an accused child sex offender, but with an admitted one," SNAP's letter said. "How can you possibly consider this on-going secrecy responsible and caring behavior?"

SNAP leaders say that a distraught Yakima Catholic sent them the Estrada court records two days ago.

"Often, when corrupt or insensitive actions by a church official are exposed, others who are concerned about child safety contact us with information about other clergy sex crimes and cover ups," said SNAP outreach director Barbara Dorris.

SNAP's letter urges Sevilla to
-- publicly acknowledge Estrada's conviction
-- explain (his) secrecy and callousness,
-- personally visit the parishes where Estrada worked and beg victims and witnesses to come forward, get help, and call the police.

According to the Official Catholic Directory, Estrada was ordained in 1997 and worked at St. Peter Claver Church in Wapato in 2001 and 2002. The following year, he worked at Holy Redeemer Church in Yakima.

It's not clear why or for how long Estrada was in Oregon.

The organization is also asking Sevilla to voluntarily skip the Pope's US visit next week, as 'penance' for his 'deliberate, secretive hiring of Juan Gonzalez, a suspected child sex criminal under police investigation.'

Earlier this month, Gonzalez was arrested for those charges. Until then, Sevilla had for years kept quiet about them. The bishop has since apologized.

Last week, SNAP asked Sevilla to suspend himself without pay for at least a month for what they call his 'consistently callous, reckless and deceitful actions' surrounding the Gonzalez case 'that put kids at risk of tremendous harm.'

Sevilla quickly rejected SNAP's suspension proposal, citing pressing job duties.
"We will take you at your word: that you have demanding job responsibilities that prevent you from being suspended. But if that is indeed the case, then please consider skipping the papal festivities, staying home, attending to your duties and considering it your penance. A diocesan-funded trip to Washington DC and New York City to join the pageantry is, no doubt, tempting. But it clearly isn't a crucial part of your responsibilities," SNAP maintains.

Skipping the papal events, and doing so as "penance," might deter future recklessness by other church officials, SNAP believes.

"By passing up this trip, and doing so in the name of accountability, you would send a powerful signal to others in the church, that wrongdoing has consequences, SNAP's letter says. "Otherwise, with no consequences, the message that Catholic employees and laity get is "Put kids at risk, be secretive about it, get caught, and all you have to do is apologize. That is a dangerous message."

Originally, Estrada faced five felony counts. Four were dropped when he pled guilty and agreed to be deported. He is believed to be from Colombia.

In the Gonzalez case, SNAP has called Sevilla's admission of errors "misleading public relations" and "essentially meaningless."

"It's like verbally apologizing for embezzling money but not paying it back," said Dorris. "Words alone aren't atonement. Words alone don't prod other wrong-doers to reform."
Catholic doctrine teaches that reparations and actions are needed before forgiveness can take place, she said.

**********

A copy of SNAP's new letter, sent today by fax and e mail, is below. A similar letter is being sent to the bishop of Baker, Oregon, the diocese where Estrada's crimes took place.

April 10, 2008

Dear Bishop Sevilla:

Last week, we asked that you suspend yourself because of your secretive, reckless and deceptive actions surrounding your hiring of a criminal child porn suspect who has recently been arrested.

We were saddened but not surprised that within two hours of our request, you curtly rejected it and offered to do nothing to hold yourself or responsible for your callous, dangerous and self-serving actions.

We write to you again, because we are convinced that taking responsibility for serious wrong-doing is healthy for individuals and institutions, and because we have recently learned of yet another disturbing clergy sex abuse case about which you continue to keep silent.

Regarding the Gonzalez scandal, we will take you at your word: that you have demanding job responsibilities that prevent you from being suspended. But if that is indeed the case, then here's a suggested compromise: please consider skipping the papal festivities, staying home, attending to your duties, and considering it your 'penance.'

A diocesan-funded trip to Washington DC and New York City to join the pageantry is, no doubt, tempting. But it clearly isn't a crucial part of your responsibilities. By passing up this trip, and doing so in the name of accountability, you would send a powerful signal to others in the church, that wrongdoing has consequences.

For us, the issue is not what particular consequences you should face. The issue is that you experience SOME consequences for deceiving others about Gonzalez, failing to consult police, letting him get promoted and teach kids, all despite a pending criminal probe. Otherwise, with no consequences, the message that Catholic employees and laity get is 'Put kids at risk, be secretive about it, get caught, and all you have to do is apologize.' That is a dangerous message and does virtually nothing to deter future recklessness, secrecy and deception.

We urge you to stay home not in any punitive way. We care more about kids being protected than adults being disappointed. We are interested in prevention, not punishment.

We genuinely hope you will give real consideration to our suggested compromise, and not immediately reject it out of hand.

Regarding the newest scandal, we again see a pattern of secrecy and recklessness.

A year after America's bishops pledged to be open about child sex cases, Fr. Jose Estrada, a Yakima priest, pled guilty in Oregon to molesting a 14-year-old girl. Apparently, you said nothing when he was charged. You said nothing when he pled guilty. You said nothing when he was deported. And you’ve said nothing since.

We know little about the circumstances of Estrada's crimes or his 14-year-old victim's pain. But we do know that he admitted criminally molesting a girl, and that you've kept secret about it. How can you justify such silence, knowing that there may well be other kids - in Yakima or Oregon - who've been sexually assaulted by Estrada and are suffering in shame, confusion and self-blame?

Like the recent Gonzalez scandal, you've again essentially deceived your flock, this time not with an accused child sex offender, but with an admitted one. How can you possibly consider this on-going secrecy responsible and caring behavior?

Though these steps should have been taken years ago, we ask you to now
-- 'come clean' and publicly acknowledge Estrada's conviction
-- explain your secrecy and callousness,
-- personally visit the parishes where he worked and beg victims and witnesses to come forward, get help, and call the police.

We look forward to hearing from you. Please know that we would welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss these disturbing matters with you in person.

David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915

Barbara Blaine
President, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
PO Box 6416
Chicago IL 60680
312 399 4747

Barbara Dorris
Outreach Coordinator, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
6245 Westminster
St. Louis MO 63130
(312) 399-4747


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org
 


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