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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Release

Abuse victims to bishop: ‘Teach your flock’

Parishioners are publicly supporting accused cleric

Website “intimidates victims & whistleblowers,” group says

Two other former clerics in the diocese are also facing lawsuits

Contact:

Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, CA, SNAP Western Regional Director
jcasteix@gmail.com
949-322-7434

Barb Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director
SNAPdorris@gmail.com
314-503-0003

David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP National Director
SNAPclohessy@aol.com
314-566-9790

In response to three new clergy sex abuse lawsuits and what they call a “disturbing” new website, clergy sex abuse victims are are asking Monterey’s Catholic bishop to educate parishioners on how respond appropriately when priests are accused of molesting kids.

Today, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPNnetwork.org), are asking Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia to reach out to parishioners at Old Mission San Juan Bautista, some of whom who have launched a website supporting Fr. Edward Fitz-Henry, a priest who was sued in February for allegedly abusing a young boy.

Fitz-Henry has been sent to a church-run treatment facility for child-molesting clerics (http://www.kionrightnow.com/story/14061409/priest-let-go-in-sexual-abuse-case) and the bishop has said publicly that at least one accusation has merit. The website, however, claims that Fitz-Henry is innocent and that the latest young victim is lying. The website, SNAP claims, scares and shames victims into silence and harasses whistleblowers, who may not come forward out of fear of retribution. The website can be viewed here: (http://www.in-support-of-fr-ed.com/)

SNAP is also sending Garcia the link to an online brochure, "What To Do If Your Priest Is Accused of Abuse," that educates Catholics about what the group calls “safe, helpful and compassionate ways that people can support their priest.”

"Despite hundreds of self-serving policies, programs, procedures and panels (and other public relations gestures), as best we can tell, not a single bishop on the planet has taught his flock about the compassionate and helpful ways to act when a priest is accused of molesting a child," SNAP’s letter says. "We hope you'll be the first."

The Diocese of Monterey faces three recent sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits against current and former priests in the diocese.

"Many Catholics in Monterey are suffering because of predator clerics in your diocese," the letter continues. "Instead of engaging in stall tactics and telling Catholics half-truths, now is the time to come clean, release secret personnel documents, support victims and protect the vulnerable. Keeping your flock in the dark and allowing them to attack victims helps no one."

Lawsuits are also pending against former Monterey priest William J. Allison (http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_18616562), who has been accused of abuse in Fresno and Flagstaff, AZ; and Fr. Antonio Cortes, a Salinas priest who was convicted of sexually abusing a child in May 2011 (http://www.kionrightnow.com/story/14571567/salinas-priest-sentenced-to-1-year-in-jail-for-molestation).

Fitz-Henry also worked in Carmel and Salinas, CA and is originally from Ireland. Cortes also worked in Monterey and Gonzales, CA.

A copy of the letter is below. The brochure can be accessed at http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/when_priest_accused.htm

*************************

SNAP - The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
P.O. Box 6416
Chicago, IL 60680
SNAPNetwork.org

August 8, 2011

Most Reverend Richard Garcia, Bishop of Monterey
Diocese of Monterey
P.O. Box 2048
Monterey, CA 93942
(831) 373-1175 fax

Dear Bishop Garcia,

We are victims of sexual abuse who are members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPNetwork.org), the nation's largest support group for men and women who were sexually abused in religious organizations. We are writing you today to alert you a serious problem at Old Mission San Juan Bautista that requires your immediate attention.

A few parishioners there have started a website in support of Fr. Edward Fitz-Henry, a priest in your diocese who was been accused of abuse by at least two boys; has been sent to a church-run treatment facility for child abusing clerics; and is now the subject of sex abuse and cover-up lawsuit. The site, In-Support-Of-Fr-Ed.com, claims that Fitz-Gerald is innocent, even though you have publicly said that allegations against Fitz-Henry have merit. The website also uses incorrect information about abuse, lashes out at victims and support groups, harasses potential whistleblowers, and scares young victims of abuse (no matter the perpetrator), who may now never come forward and report because of the insensitive actions of a few parishioners.

Many Catholics in Monterey are suffering because of predator clerics in your diocese. Instead of engaging in stall tactics and telling Catholics half-truths, now is the time to come clean, release secret personnel documents, support victims and allow everyone to heal. Keeping your flock in the dark and allowing them to attack victims helps no one.

If you genuinely want to prevent abuse and help victims, you should do all you can to create a more "victim-friendly" environment, which encourages - not discourages - the reporting of child sex crimes. This is especially important because three Monterey priests face pending suits and because of the pro-Fitz-Henry website

Despite hundreds of self-serving policies, programs, procedures and panels (and other public relations gestures) as best we can tell, not a single bishop on the planet has made an effort to teach his flock about the compassionate and helpful ways to act when a priest is accused of molesting a child. We hope you'll be the first.

In light of this, we ask the following:

- Distribute the online brochure "What To Do When Your Priest is Accused of Abuse" to every parish in the diocese, including the lay leadership of Old Mission San Juan Bautista,

- Ask the owners of in-support-of-fr-ed.com to take the site down and support Fitz-Henry quietly,

- Release and make public the secret personnel documents of all abusive clerics who have ever worked in Monterey, including Fitz-Henry, Cortes and Allison, and

- Stop stall tactics in pending civil cases so that victims and your flock can learn the full truth and heal.

We look forward to your immediate response and action in this matter. The online brochure may be found at http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/when_priest_accused.htm and is attached at the bottom of this message.

Sincerely,

Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, CA, SNAP Western Regional Director
SNAPCasteix@gmail.com
949-322-7434

Barb Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director
SNAPdorris@gmail.com
314-503-0003

What to do when your priest is accused of abuse

1) Remain open-minded.

The natural human instinct is to recoil from alleged horror, and to immediately assume that the allegations are false. But the overwhelming majority of abuse disclosures prove to be true.

In every case, the proper and Christian response is to remain open-minded.

2) Pray for all parties involved.
Every person involved deserves and needs prayerful support.

3) Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise.
You may feel angry, betrayed, confused, hurt, worried and sad. These are all natural, "typical" responses to an allegation of sexual abuse. None of these feelings are inappropriate or "bad." Don't "kick yourself" for feeling any of these emotions.

4) Remember that abuse, sadly, is quite common.
It's far more widespread than any of us would like to believe. Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 9 boys will be molested in their lifetimes.

5) Don't try to "guess" or figure out who the accuser is.
Abuse victims, like rape victims, need their privacy to recover from their trauma. Openly speculating about who is alleging abuse is essentially gossiping, and helps to create a hostile climate that will keep other victims (even those abused by non-clerical perpetrators) from coming forward.

6) If you do know the victim(s), protect his/her confidentiality.
There are many good reasons why abuse victims are unable to publicly come forward. Often, the person wants to keep his/her elderly parents or young children from suffering too. Don't compound the pain he/she is in by disclosing his/her identity to others.

7) Understand that abuse victims often have "troubled" backgrounds (i.e. drug or alcohol problems, criminal backgrounds, etc.)
Instead of undermining the credibility of accusers, these difficulties actually enhance their credibility. (When someone is physically hurt, there are almost always clear signs of harm; so too with sexual abuse. The harm is reflected largely in self-destructive behaviors. One might be skeptical of a person who claimed to have been run over by a truck but showed no bodily injury. Similarly, one might be skeptical of an alleged molestation victim who always acted like a "model citizen.")

8) Don't allow the mere passage of time to discredit the accusers.
Stress to your fellow parishioners that there are many good reasons why abuse victims disclose their victimization years after the crime. In most instances, victims come forward when they are emotionally able to do so, and feel capable of risking disbelief and rejection from precious loved ones, including family members, church leaders, other authorities, and fellow Catholics. Sometimes, they are psychologically able to do so only after their perpetrator has died, moved or been accused by someone else. Sometimes, they have been assured that their perpetrator would never be around kids again, but have learned that this isn't the case.

(In other cases, it takes years before victims are able to understand and/or acknowledge to themselves that they have been sexually violated. This is a common defense mechanism.)

9) Ask your family members and friends if they were victimized.
Many times, abuse victims will continue to "keep the secret" unless specifically invited to disclose their victimization by someone they love and trust. Even raising this topic can be very uncomfortable. But it must be done. It may be very awkward and your family members may even act resentful at first. But soon they will remember that you really care about them, and will see your question as a sign of that care.

10) Mention the accusation to former parishioners and parish staff now living elsewhere.
They may have information that could prove the guilt or innocence of the priest facing allegations. This is especially important because sometimes abuse victims or their families move away after experiencing abuse.

11) Contact the police or prosecutors.
It's your duty as a citizen to call the proper civil authorities if you have any information (even if it's "second hand" or vague) that might help prove the guilt or innocence of the accused. It's your duty as a Christian to help seek justice and protect others from harm. Remember: abuse thrives in secrecy. Exposing a physical wound to fresh air, clean water and sunlight can be healing. Exposing sexual crimes is also ultimately healing. And remember that police and prosecutors are unbiased professionals with the skills and experience needed to ascertain whether an allegation is true or false.

12) Don't allow other parishioners to make disparaging comments about those making the allegation.
Remember, the sexual abuse of children has terribly damaging effects. As a Christian, you want to help prevent such victimization. And you want anyone who is in pain to get help as soon as possible. Critical comments about those who make allegations only discourage others who may have been hurt. Such remarks prevent those who need help from reaching out and getting it. Show your compassion for abuse victims. Tell your fellow parishioners that hurtful comments are inappropriate. Remind them that they can defend their priest without attacking his accuser.

13) Educate yourself and your family about sexual abuse.
There are many excellent books and resources on the subject. There are also good books specifically about molestation by clerics (Jason Berry's Lead Us Not Into Temptation, Frank Bruni & Elinor Burkett's Gospel of Shame, and the Boston Globe's Betrayal). Check out the web site for clergy abuse victims:SNAPnetwork.org

14) Support the accused priest PRIVATELY.
Calls, visits, letters, gifts, and prayers - all of these are appropriate ways to express your love and concern for the accused priest. Public displays of support, however, are not. They only intimidate others into keeping silent. In fact, it is terribly hurtful to victims to see parishioners openly rallying behind an accused priest. You may want to publicly defend a priest, collect funds for the priest's defense, and take similar steps. Please don't. Express your appreciation of the priest in a direct, quiet ways. Even if the priest is innocent, somewhere in the parish is a young girl being molested by a relative or a boy being abused by his coach or youth leader. If these children see adults they love and respect publicly rallying around accused perpetrators, they will be less likely to report their own victimization to their parents, the police, or other authorities. They will be scared into remaining silent, and their horrific pain will continue.

15) Don't be blinded by the pain you can see.
The trauma of the accused priest, and those who care about him, is obvious. You can usually see it in his face, his posture, and his actions. But please try to keep in mind the trauma of the accuser too. Because you rarely see his/her pain directly, it's important to try and imagine it. This helps you keep a balanced perspective.

16) Try to put yourself in the shoes of the alleged victim.
It's easy to identify with the priest. Most Catholics have met dozens of priests and know them as warm and wonderful individuals. On the other hand, few Catholics have met clergy abuse survivors. In the gospels, Jesus calls us to identify with the hurting, the vulnerable, and the innocent, the hurting. Try, as best you can, to imagine the shame, self-blame, confusion and fear that afflict men and women who have been victimized by trusted religious authority figures.

17) Use this painful time as an opportunity to protect your own family.
Talk with your children about "safe touch," the private parts of their bodies, who is allowed to touch those parts, what to do if someone else tries, and who to tell. Urge your sons and daughters to have similar conversations with your grandchildren.

18) Turn your pain into helpful action.

In times of stress and trauma, doing something constructive can be very beneficial. Volunteer your time or donate your funds to organizations that help abused kids or work to stop molestation.

19) Keep in mind the fundamental choice you face.
On the one hand, at stake are the FEELINGS of a grown up. On the other hand, at stake is the PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL AND SEXUAL SAFETY of potentially many children. If one has to err in either direction, the prudent and moral choice is to always err on the side of protecting those who can't protect themselves: children. Remember too that it's easier for an adult to repair his reputation than for a child (or many children) to repair his/her psyche and life. Another way to look at this: Being falsely accused of abuse is horrific. But actually being abused, then being attacked or disbelieved is far worse.

20) Ask your pastor to bring in an outside expert or a therapist who can lead a balanced discussion about sexual abuse.
Therapists understand and can answer the questions you and your fellow parishioners are facing, and help you deal with the emotional impact of this trauma too.

21) Urge your bishop, pastor and other diocesan or parish employees to follow these guidelines too.

For more information:
SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
David Clohessy 314 645 5915, 314 566 9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Barbara Dorris 314 862 7688, SNAPdorris@gmail.com


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