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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Release

For immediate release: Tuesday, Dec. 15

For more information: David Clohessy 314 566 9790

Clergy sex abuse victims challenge Catholic bishop

He should address accusations against three of his staff

They allegedly kept silent after getting report that priest molested a teenager

SNAP to Aquila: "Visit parishes, reach out to the wounded and offer them help"

Parishioners and the public deserve "straight answers, not silence," group says

Self help organization also urges anyone with information about clergy crimes to speak up

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is challenging Fargo's Catholic bishop to address allegations that three church employees kept silent about a priest who molested at least one teenager.

Six months ago, Richard Jangula of Bismarck told the Grand Forks Herald that he disclosed to three diocesan officials that Fr. Gregory Patejko had sexually abused him in 1976. None of the three apparently shared the allegations to anyone outside of the diocesan hierarchy, even though the diocese paid Jangula a settlement in 1994 based on the abuse accusations.

So today leaders of SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) are writing to Fargo Bishop Samuel Aquila complaining about the three. They are Monsignor Wendelyn Vetter, Monsignor Dennis Skongseng, and Briston Fernandes, the diocese's coordinator of victim assistance. The latter two still work for the diocese; Vetter is retired but still does some work at two parishes.

“If these church staffers said nothing - for months or years - to police, prosecutors, parishioners or the public about credible child sex abuse allegations, it's a violation of the church's national abuse policy," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director. "It also likely leaves others who were assaulted by Patejko suffering in shame, isolation, and self-blame. And it's wrong for the bishop to ignore these serious allegations."

Jangula reported his abuse to Vetter in 1994. Then last year, Jangula spoke with Skongseng and Fernandes together. Both meetings were in person.

Shortly after talking with Vetter, the then-vicar general came to Jangula's home and "got him to sign a document releasing the Fargo diocese from any claims he might have 'for any losses, injuries, damages or expenses,' that he suffered through 'any sexual, physical or emotional abuse' by Patejko, St. Andrew parish in Zeeland, and the Fargo diocese," according to the Herald.

At a sidewalk news conference in May outside the Fargo Catholic Diocese headquarters, SNAP members urged Aquila to disclose more about the accusations against a former priest and challenged two Fargo area priests to reply to allegations they mishandled allegations against him.

SNAP is also urging anyone else who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes – by Patejko or others – to come

"No institution can investigate itself," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP's founder and president. "Anyone with knowledge or suspicions of child sex crimes - however old or slight or vague - should contact law enforcement officials, not church officials."

Even though Patejko is reportedly dead, SNAP feels that Jangula's accusation should be reported to law enforcement because it’s possible that others who concealed his crimes might still be prosecuted.

Skongseng works at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo (701 232 8969, cms2@cardinalmuench.org, dennis.skonseng@fargodiocese.org).

Vetter works at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Reynolds (701 847 2371) and St. Michael's parish in Grand Forks (701 772 2624).

Fernandes can be reached at 701-356-7965.

Aquila can be reached at 701-356-7900 or 701-356-7944.

In May, SNAP held news conference in San Antonio TX. And in October, the group held a similar event in Trenton NJ. Both were designed to alert the public and parishioners that Patejko had worked at nearby Catholic churches and to offer help to anyone he might have hurt in those areas.

http://www.txcn.com/sharedcontent/dws/txcn/austin/stories/051209kvue_diocese_priests-cb.1c7ded35.html

http://www.nj.com/news/times/regional/index.ssf?/base/news-18/1256795113273911.xml&coll=5

A copy of SNAP's letter to the bishop, sent today by fax and e mail, is below:

Dec. 15, 2009

Dear Bishop Aquila:

In May, Richard Jangula courageously exposed Fr. Gregory Patejko as a credibly accused abuser and publicly disclosed that your diocese had paid Richard a settlement.

In the six months since, to the best of our knowledge, there has been
-- no personal visit by top church staff to Patejko's former parishes to urge victims to come forward and get help,
-- no explanation to your flock as to why you and your staff kept secret about these credible allegations,
-- no public announcements on the diocesan website, in the diocesan newspaper, in parish bulletins, or news releases to the media and public about Patejko's wrongdoing,
-- no effort to inform other dioceses about your determination that Richard is credible and the abuse he reports likely happened, and
-- no efforts to convince bishops in those other dioceses to reach out to anyone Patejko may have hurt there.

Perhaps most important, there's been no response to Richard's troubling disclosure that he alerted three church employees to Patejko's wrongdoing.

According to the Grand Forks Herald:
--- "In 1994, then Vicar General, Monsignor Wendelyn Vetter, came to (Jangula's) home and got him to sign a document releasing the Fargo diocese from any claims he might have 'for any losses, injuries, damages or expenses,' that he suffered through 'any sexual, physical or emotional abuse' by Patejko."
-- “A year or two ago, he met with Vicar General, Monsignor Dennis Skongseng and the diocese's coordinator of victim assistance, Briston Fernandes. ‘Briston, he just smiled at me and said, ‘You shouldn't have signed that paper,’ Jangula said.”

In other words, Richard's courageous and compassionate move to expose a predator and help others has been met with silence. His reaching out to others who may have been molested and who may be suffering has been ignored. His report that three church officials responded to his abuse callously and secretively remains unaddressed.

In fact, when the Grand Forks Herald reported about Richard's suffering and Patejko's crimes, your public relations person said "Skongseng and Fernandes would not be made available to comment, nor was Bishop Samuel Aquila."

So no one in the Fargo area really knows whether Vetter, Skongseng and Fernandes mistreated a victim, recklessly kept secrets, and violated the church’s national child sex abuse policy, which mandates “openness and transparency” in such cases. If they did, they’ll likely do it again, especially because in your diocese, there’s apparently no consequences for such wrongdoing.

Bishop, it's time to show a little courage and decency. It's time to speak up. It's time to investigate and respond to Richard’s troubling allegation. And it’s time to use your vast resources – church websites, parish bulletins, pulpit announcements – to seek out and offer help to anyone else who may have been hurt by Patejko, in North Dakota, in Texas, and in New Jersey.

For months, we sat tight, hoping you would do something, anything, to address Richard’s allegations and reach out to others who may have been assaulted by Patejko, and who are likely still suffering in shame, silence and self blame. But, as best we can tell, you’ve done nothing.

Please show some regard for Richard and other victims. Please show some respect for your flock. Get out from behind your desk, overrule your public relations staff, ignore your defense lawyer, and be the shepherd you profess to be and that Christ calls you to be.

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 home)

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 (314 862 7688)

Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
1850 Shadywood Road, Wayzata MN 55391 (952-471-3422)


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


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