The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
Regarding Bishops' Report on
Friday, February 18, 2005
Our message today is very simple.
First, prudent people will wait for proof before assuming these so-called reforms are working.
Second, much of what's being touted as reform is irrelevant or ineffective
Third, the crux of this crisis fundamentally remains unaddressed.
Before we talk specifics, take a minute and remember how all this came about.
Bishops have devised the rules of play, hired the umpires, chosen the players, and in about an hour, will declare that they're winning.
They wrote the Charter, they hired their own so-called watchdogs, they decide who gets interviewed and who gets heard.
This is crucial - prior to January 2002, each bishop was in charge of handling sex abuse in his diocese. Today, each bishop essentially still is.
Now, to our first message:
A lot of time and effort has been focused on abuse in the church in the last two years. A lot of time and effort went into the bishops' presentation you'll soon see.
There's one obvious question: Is all this making a difference?
The frank answer is: It's way too soon to tell.
The prudent answer is: We should assume, for now, it has not.
We owe it to innocent children and vulnerable adults to insist on hard evidence and solid data before determining progress is being made. Given what we now know about the complicity of bishops in the cover up, to do anything else is simply reckless.
We owe it to innocent children and vulnerable adults to remember that motion doesn't equal progress, and that activity doesn't equal change.
(The bishops themselves admit they have no idea if their efforts are effective. On the USCCB web site, in an FAQ section, it asks: Does the Charter mandate an effectiveness or quality measurement? Their answer: the Charter does not require an effectiveness or quality measurement at this time. Whatever they're doing, they are NOT measuring effectiveness.)
Our position may seem odd. Again, a lot of energy has been focused on this horrific scandal. There have been mountains of paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases.
Has this affected performance? On the whole, we will assume not. We hope Catholics will assume not. And we beg you to assume not, we beg you to be cautious
Keep in mind that it wasn't a lack of paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that caused thousands of priests to rape and sodomize tens of thousands of kids. So it won't be paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that solve this crisis.
How can we claim that little has changed? Because history, psychology, common sense and daily anecdotal evidence are on our side.
History is on our side. History tells us that institutions change very slowly. This is especially true of very old, rigid, secretive, hierarchical, male-dominated systems. Only the most naive would believe that decades-old, maybe centuries-old patterns could possibly be dramatically changed overnight.
Psychology is on our side. Psychology tells us people change when they experience unpleasant consequences for their behavior. Bishops tell us that on the whole, donations aren't down, mass attendance isn't down, and seminary enrollment isn't down. We've seen not a shred of evidence that bishops are fundamentally suffering or being forced to change their lifestyles or are losing their power.
Common sense is on our side. Common sense tells us that if the upper management of an organization remains essentially intact after an enormous scandal, little will change. One or two bishops have fired their hardball defense lawyers. A few bishops have fired their PR person. Some bishops have died or retired. But the stability within the upper ranks of the church is remarkable. Basically, the same men are in charge now that were in charge 3, 5, even 10 years ago. How can anyone really believe things have changed much.
Daily evidence is on our side. Every day, we hear from survivors who continue to be treated insensitively. Every day, we see bishops parsing phrases and splitting hairs and playing word games, rather than just telling the truth. Every day, we see church leaders doing the bare minimum, instead of doing what Jesus would have us to, to reach out to the lost and wounded sheep. Every day, we see Catholic officials using Catholics' donations to keep long-secret documents about cover ups hidden from public view.
(This isn't, by the way, anecdotal evidence. It's hard evidence. It's in the newspapers nearly every day. Read the Abuse Tracker. You'll see it.)
There have, of course, been many bad headlines. A few dozen dioceses and their insurers have paid settlements. A few criminals have gone to jail. In the corporate world, the non-profit world, or the government world, this scenario often produces change. But the church, remember, is a monarchy. For the most part, monarchs are unaffected by bad press, some financial losses, and a few underlings being sent to jail.
So to lay Catholics today, we say withhold judgment, don't assume, be skeptical, stay vigilant, safeguard youngsters and demand reform.
Our second message today is that much of what's being touted as reform is irrelevant or ineffective.
Let's start with the ineffective. There have been plenty. Putting windows in confessionals is one of my personal favorites. Is a window like this bad? Of course not. Is it effective at stopping a child molester? Of course not.
Every diocese in America last year was cited, even praised, by auditors for three examples of ineffective steps: employee codes of conduct, formal communications plans, and having a "point person" to take incoming abuse allegations.
Is there one priest who molested one girl because he'd never read an employee code of conduct telling him child rape is wrong?
Is there one bishop who covered up abuse because he'd never read a formal diocesan communications plan telling him to be honest.
Is there one father who kept quiet about his son's victimization because he couldn't determine who the proper church "point person" was who handled abuse allegations?
If we pause to really consider these seemingly positive steps, many of them are revealed as largely superfluous.
Now let's look at relevancy. Much of what's being praised as reform is, in fact, largely irrelevant.
Fingerprinting employees is good. Doing background checks is good.
But 99% of the people these affect aren't part of the crisis. They aren't now and never have been. They are lay people.
The crisis involves abusive clergy and complicit bishops, not lay people.
So literally 99% of those being fingerprinted and checked have never been part of the problem.
Consider this: because molesters are shrewd, laws are archaic, statutes are rigid, prosecutors are timid, and bishops are secretive - because of all this, very few priests are criminally charged. Even fewer are prosecuted. Even fewer are found guilty.
So a tiny number of priests will ever have criminal backgrounds that a background check or fingerprinting might detect.
If these steps - fingerprinting, doing background checks, training staff - if these steps had been in place ten or 15 years ago, would they have prevented kids from being molested or bishops from covering up the crimes? In a few cases, certainly. In most cases, they would not.
We're not saying these steps are bad. We're saying the opposite. These steps are good. But they are largely irrelevant to the crisis in the church.
These steps will no doubt prevent a few molesters from becoming parochial school teachers or bus drivers. But, again, they are peripheral, not central, preventing abusive clergy and complicit bishops from causing more pain.
Look at today's AP story. This is the lead, quoted verbatim: "The Boston Archdiocese has begun running annual criminal background checks on more than 60,000 priests, employees, volunteers to prevent recurrence of the clergy sex abuse scandal."
Think about this. Again, literally 99% of those being checked are NOT clergy. So how does this "prevent recurrence of the clergy abuse scandal."
It will prevent some abuse. It will have little effect on clergy sex abuse.
Fundamentally, our beef is not with some of the measures being taken. Our beef is with how church leaders are deliberately overselling these measures. They are washing the Pinto, vacuuming the Pinto, adding a CD player and an air freshener, and saying "Viola, now it's a Cadillac."
That's wrong. That's designed not to prevent abuse, but to prevent worrying. That's designed to bring complacency, not to bring reform.
But what about the Review Board and their "big stick," this once a year report on how bishops are doing? Isn't that a deterrent to backsliding?
Let's be real. After enduring dozens of scandalous media reports about horrific abuses, is any bishop going to change his behavior because he fears a headline that says "Diocese abuse training program is only 75% finished?"
The crux of the so-called accountability mechanism -- the Review Board and the so-called "audits" - is all carrot and no stick.
Here's the bottom line:
Even the best of these steps are belated, begrudging, and too premature to be called effective at this point.
Some of these steps help, but help just a little.
Some of these steps help, but almost strictly with lay people, not with priests and bishops.
Other steps don't help, and are distractions.
They can be dangerous distractions, especially when they are depicted as substantive reforms and thus lead to premature complacency.
Do these steps take away the power of bishops? No. That's what remains to be addressed -- the power and accountability of bishops.
Our third message today is that the crux of this crisis fundamentally remains unaddressed.
At the risk of oversimplification, here's why all these crimes and cover ups happened. In five simple words: bishops have too much power. Period. They rebuffed victims, hid secrets, transferred predators, warned no one, evaded prosecution, and decieved their flocks . . . because they could get by with it. They have too much power. That has not changed.
And today - despite the lawsuits, the bad headlines, the flurry of activity, the policies, the procedures, and the paperwork - bishops still have too much power.
Does anyone in this room really think that Cardinal Egan's power to deceive has been curtailed because the Charter tells him he must have a diocesan communications plan that pledges openness?
Does anyone really think that Cardinal Rigali's power to ignore victims has been curtailed because the Charter tells him he should be more compassionate?
Does anyone really think that Cardinal Mahony's power to hide secrets has been curtailed because the Charter talks of transparency?
Does anyone really think that Cardinal George's power to keep an admitted perpetrator in active ministry around teenagers, as he did until we exposed him last week, does anyone really think that Cardinal George's power to reassign this predator has been curtailed by the Charter's vague assurances of zero tolerance?
So if the issue is power, and power hasn't shifted, what can be done?
How, in a monarchy, can power be taken away from men who abused and continue abusing it?
There are two simple, proven ways.
The first is legislation. We don't let Enron police itself. We can't let America's bishops police themselves. And the most important legislation is reforming the archaic, rigid and dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations. When sex crimes are handled by the independent professionals in law enforcement, not by bishops, everyone is safer.
The second is getting the names of the predators. Knowledge is power, and when we gain the knowledge of who's dangerous and who's been harboring the dangerous, then we can protect our families.
We in SNAP firmly believe that this is where the focus needs to be. If real change will ever happen, it will be because bishops lose the power to handle sex crimes in house and lose the power to keep the names of molesters secret. That's where our prevention efforts have been and will continue to be focused.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests