The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
June 18, 2003
ONE YEAR LATER
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago,
We are men and women who have been sexually violated by Catholic clergy. We belong to SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. And we stand here today both hopeful and frustrated.
We are hopeful for many reasons. Over the past year, we've seen promising steps taken to protect children by many secular authorities.
Lawmakers are doing more. Two legislatures recently
extended the statute of limitations, making it easier to expose,
remove and prosecute child molesters (Missouri, Illinois).
Police are doing more. In several instances, they're using more creative techniques, and have sometimes secured confessions from molesting priests (Los Angeles). They have also pursued abusive priests across state lines, and even into other countries (Chicago, Los Angeles).
Prosecutors are doing more. At least 12 have convened grand juries. Several have uncovered obscure laws that enable prosecution even years after the sex crimes occurred (St. Louis, Detroit). Two have secured novel settlements (AZ, NH). One has even named suspected abusers even though no criminal charges were able to be filed (New Bedford MA).
Judges are doing more. In general, they are less deferential toward church officials and more open-minded about possibly opening church records that shed light on this horrific problem. Some have expressed regret over having sealed records in clergy abuse cases in the past (Boston).
We are also hopeful because regular Catholics are doing more. They're responding with more skepticism when their bishops talk about sexual abuse. They're being more careful about who they allow to spend time with their children. They're talking more with their sons and daughters about preventing abuse. And through organizations like Voice of the Faithful, they're supporting survivors in more ways than we ever dared hope five or ten years ago.
There's another reason we're hopeful: because of what we in SNAP are doing.
We've grown in the past 18 months, from having 3 local support groups to more than 45 such groups. We've listened to, supported, and helped more victims than we ever imagined five or ten years ago. We're getting younger victims, who spare themselves decades of isolation and shame by coming forward sooner than most of us were able to come forward. We're seeing more siblings, spouses, partners and parents believing victims and being helpful in their recovery. And as an organization, we're learning how we can better serve and support survivors.
Indeed, there is a lot to feel hopeful about.
At the same time, while we are hopeful, we are also frustrated.
There has been some progress on the part of bishops. But it has been too often been sporadic, belated, begrudging, and only under pressure. It has too often been seemingly designed to limit legal risk, rather driven by genuine heartfelt conversion. It has too often come in the form of simple, long overdue steps, steps that many other institutions adopted years ago. So it's hard to feel optimistic when what little change we've seen takes place largely under these conditions.
Let's get specific. Some dioceses have provided very sketchy financial disclosures about costs associated with the abuse crisis. In more dioceses, victims are offered church-provided therapy. In a few, the names of abusive priests are voluntarily made public.
But overall, bishops have largely failed to live up to the pledges they made one year ago.
Let's get specific, starting with the most critical promise bishops made, to never keep or put back into ministry an abusive priest.
- Suspected/Known Perpetrators in Ministry
Still, at least one bishop, even now, recently hired and lived with a known abuser from another diocese (Chicago).
Still, at least one bishop, even now, is returning a suspected abuser back to ministry, despite facing a current civil lawsuit (San Francisco).
Still, at least one bishop is, even now, is returning a convicted priest to ministry (San Bernardino).
Still, some bishops are returning suspended priests to ministry, because their acknowledged "sexual misconduct" doesn't "rise to the level of abuse," or wasn't done "with the intent of sexual gratification." (Camden, NJ)
Still, some bishops split hairs, find loopholes, create loopholes, and bend over backwards every conceivable way, giving every conveyable benefit of every conceivable doubt to abusive clerics, and strain to find ways to sneak around the Charter.
Still, many bishops disclose information only when subpoenaed or when it is clear that information will be make public any way.
Still, many bishops are fighting tooth and nail in court to keep church documents from public view.
Still, a few bishops are vigorously resisting turning over records sought by prosecutors (Los Angeles, Cincinnati).
Still, at least one bishop is in court trying to keep sealed all information stemming from a grand jury report (Cleveland).
- Review Boards
Still, some bishops refuse to publicly name the individuals who serve on review panels and who investigate abuse allegations (San Francisco).
Still, some bishops' review panels won't meet directly with victims, instead using a priest or other church employee to "filter" information to the board indirectly.
Still, we suspect that bishops' staff give inadequate or inaccurate information to review boards regarding suspected abusers.
- Response to victims
Still, some bishops insist on using lawyers to respond when victims call the chancery seeking pastoral care (Belleville, Camden, Bridgeport, Sacramento).
Still, at least one bishop uses a deceptive "hotline" to lure victims into disclosing to a church-paid attorney who fails to identify herself as such (Sacramento).
Still, some bishops put unreasonable restrictions on the therapy offered to victims (arbitrary time constraints, the use of church-affiliated counselors only, etc.)
What does all this mean for victims? It means that old habits die hard. It means that expecting serious, fundamental, and quick reforms from bishops is unrealistic.
It also means we will simply have to work harder and smarter to reach out to others in pain and help them heal. And it means we ourselves will have to do even more to prevent other kids from getting hurt.
# # #
For details, contact David Clohessy 314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915
Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests