Survivors Network of
those Abused by Priests
"Don't parse words. Don't Split Hairs.
Just Protect Kids"
July 29, 2003
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago (312 399
President of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
"We're here today presenting the National Review Board with
a message and an
invitation. First, however, a message to Bishop Wilton Gregory:
We're still waiting for a reply to our June 18 letter, which we
hand delivered to USCCB staffer Mary Ann Walsh in St. Louis more
than five weeks ago and which we also send via e mail. We repeat
our request that Bishop Gregory appoint a respected individual with
a law enforcement background to replace ousted Review Board chairman
Frank Keating. This simple step
would go far to restore the faith many Catholics and some survivors
initially had in the Review Board and in America's bishops.
Now, on to the Review Board. Our message is simple: Don't split
hairs. Don't parse words. Don't make excuses. Do the right thing.
Doing the right thing means using the right yardstick. Measuring
the bishops how they should be measured, not on their own terms,
but on commonly accepted and on common sense terms, on the same
kind of yardstick the rest of society uses.
In essence, the bishops have made up the rules of the game and
have chosen the umpires. There are two problems with this approach.
First, it's obviously not fair. Second, the abuse if children is
real life, not a game.
For the Review Board, then, their task is clear: Play fair. Play
by the same rules as the rest of society. Judge the bishops' actions
not by their own made-up rules, but by the rules of common sense
From day one, we believed the Dallas charter was flawed and inadequate.
Then, at the insistence of Vatican bureaucrats, it got watered down.
Then, thanks to many bishops, it began to be implemented slowly.
reluctantly and sporadically. And that's where we are today. Yet
it is against this flawed and inadequate document that bishops insist
judged. We respectfully disagree. The bishops' promises are, at
best, less than the bare minimum. And less than the bare minimum
is not what Catholics deserve. It's not what children need. It's
not what keeps kids safe. Time and time again over the past year
(and certainly before then), we've seen bishop after bishop split
hairs, parse words, make
excuses, and keep known or abusive priests in active ministry, or
fail to disclose their crimes to parishioners, or quietly reassign
them, or other wise put kids at risk, even now.
(See Fact Sheet)
And these cases involve accused or admitted abusers still in ministry.
That doesn't begin to scratch the surface on the other promises
bishops made - promises to be open, transparent, and compassionate,
for example. Remember, we're talking about the single most important
pledge the bishops made - to remove abusers - and we're seeing dangerous
backtracking here by some bishops.
So what does this mean for the National Review Board? It means
they have to be different. They have to fight against and expose
this hairsplitting, word parsing, and excuse making. They must judge
bishops as lay Catholics, as parents, as responsible,
caring adults would judge them, by a reasonable common sense standard,
as the bishops themselves insist on being judged. They must use
a reasonable, common sense yardstick for judging the bishops They
must look to the spirit, not the letter, of the Charter.
Nowhere does the charter explicitly say priests should not sue
their accusers. But that's
wrong, and this board should condemn this. Nowhere does the charter
explicitly say that "church-paid lawyers should not handle
calls from survivors seeking counseling." But that's wrong,
and this board should condemn this. Nowhere does the charter explicitly
say "bishops should say at little as possible and refuse to
reach out to parishioners where
known or suspected molesters served, asking if others may have been
wounded too." But keeping silent is wrong, and this board should
condemn this. Nowhere does the charter explicitly say "lay
people who are convicted molesters are allowed to work in churches."
But that's wrong, and this board should condemn this. Nowhere does
the charter explicitly say "Church lawyers should not subpoena
victims' therapy records." But that's
wrong, and this board should condemn this. Nowhere does the charter
explicitly say "It's OK for bishops to quietly lobby against
reforming laws to better protect kids." But that's wrong, and
this board should condemn this. And this condemnation needs to come
now, not months or years from now. Things are somewhat better. More
is being done. But kids are still at risk.
Review Board members may say "Well, we just have to wait and
see what the audits show." Forgive our skepticism. First, we're
not sure "audit" is the correct term. Financial auditors,
for example, have access to objective data, data from sources outside
organization being audited, things like IRS and bank records. From
what we understand, however, these church auditors have no such
access. They are really "interviewers." We understand
they may check courthouse records. But otherwise, they seem to rely
solely or at least largely on interviews with church personnel.
Second, we're the nation's oldest and largest support group for
clergy abuse victims. Yet we don't know of a single one of our leaders
who the so-called "auditors" have contacted. We're not
sure if even any of our members have been contacted or invited to
provide input. Third, we've never seen the audit instrument nor
a schedule of when these visits are taking place.
It's hard to have a great deal of confidence in this system, since
we know so little about it. Still, we try to remain hopeful. Still,
we scurry to meet with Review Board members at every opportunity.
But we can't help but be skeptical. We desperately hope we will
be proven wrong.
Like our message, our invitation is simple. We're asking each member
of this board to spend just two hours sometime in the next two months
sitting in one of our support group meetings. It's a simple request,
but a crucial one. Because without this experience, without
directly listening to the pain and the experiences victims are going
through right now, all this can easily become a dispassionate intellectual
endeavor, a discussion of policies and procedures and canon law
and psychological theories. . . Now more than ever, a year into
the board's work, we think it's critical that the board members'
see first hand what
survivors go through. This is especially vital since we aren't sure
the so-called "auditors" are interviewing survivors on
an extensive basis. Our self-help meetings are confidential. We
almost never invite or allow "guests." But we will gladly
make an exception for these
conscientious, caring Catholics. We will gladly make sure each board
member has an
opportunity to see the healing that can go on when survivors get
together, and One of our ground rules is "No one has to speak.
Listening is a gift too." We don't want board members to come
and give a speech. We just want them to hear us.
SNAP Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests
For more information:
David Clohessy 314 566 9790
Mark Serrano 703 771 9606
of those Abused by Priests