Survivors Network of
those Abused by Priests
regarding Bishop Baker and Diocese of Charleston, SC
Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2007
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis,
the national outreach director of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors
Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org), the nations
largest and oldest self-help group for clergy molestation victims
On Friday, in Dorchester County, a judge will hear arguments and perhaps
finalize a proposed class action settlement involving Charlestons
Catholic diocese. It centers on the devastating crimes by some Catholic
priests and the cover up of those crimes by some Catholic officials.
We have some concerns about the process, but first we want to praise
those brave abuse victims in South Carolina who have come forward, shown
courage, and reported their perpetrators. We are grateful that these men
and women have found the strength to bereak their silence. When victims
and witnesses speak up, at least there's a chance for healing, justice
and prevention. But when victims and witnesses stay silent, there's no
chance. The entire Catholic community of South Carolina should also be
grateful for these victims and their wise, compassionate decision to come
We're here today because we believe that everyone involved in the chruch's
on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis benefits most when the full
truth is told, when victims have options and when bishops let the truth
about horrific sex crimes and deception surface in open court.
There are many reasons why thousands of priests sexually assaulted tens
of thousands of kids. There are many reasons hundreds of church officials
covered up this scandal. We'll never know all of the reasons. But one
reason is clear: bishops hid clergy sex crimes because they could. We
don't want to see this class action settlement used to further hide such
When it comes to child molestation cases, bishops have, and still do,
exploit three arbitrary, rigid time deadlines
- they hide behind the civil statutes of limitations,
- they hide behind the criminal statutes of limitations, and
- they hide behind the church's own, internal statutes of limitations.
Bishops take advantage of these legal technicalities to deny victims their
'day in court,' and avoid having to face tough questions about their role
in clergy sex crimes.
Now, Bishop Baker wants to create yet another arbitrary, rigid time deadline.
In the proposed class action settlement, as we understand it, there will
be a 'bar date,' a date by which victims will have to come forward if
they want to receive help. This is wrong.
If our understanding is correct, we vehemently oppose this rigid, insensitive
bar date. It exists for one purpose only: the convenience
of the bishop.
Victims understand they've been abused, understand that hurt is on-going,
understand they have options, and gain the strength to take action WHEN
THEY CAN, not on someone else's arbitrary, unfair timeline. It is cruel
to try to force this on someone who's already been betrayed twice - first
by a dangerous predator and second by an insensitive church bureaucracy.
We ask Bishop Baker to take whatever legal moves are needed to withdraw
this request for a 'drop dead' date that can only further hurt the already
Victims usually gain understanding of their abuse and the strength to
speak up very gradually. Our healing cannot be accelerated because of
some timetable sought by church officials for their own benefit. Bishop
Baker should not even seek such a timetable.
During the class action process, we call on all parties, but especially
Bishop Baker, to be open to non-economic reforms. Increasingly, victims
understand that merely forcing church officials to pay settlements will
not deter future recklessness. Increasingly, some victims realize that
the legal process gives them a chance to push for tangible concessions
that make kids safer now and in the future. We hope that South Carolina
victims will fight hard for such non-economic reforms here, and that Bishop
Baker will be open to them.
(For examples, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/23/AR2007022301814.html)
Finally, Bishop Baker claims he wants victims to come forward. We urge
him to show by his actions, not his words, that he is sincere. Toward
that end, we urge him to take these two steps.
First, we urge Bishop Baker to do what 15 other bishops across the US
have done, and voluntarily release the names and identities of proven,
admitted and credibly accused abusive clergy - whether they are nuns,
seminarians, priests, bishops or even lay employees and volunteers. This
is the most inexpensive, most simple and most clear step Baker can take
now to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable.
This common sense safety precaution would certainly be seen by some victims
as a sign of good faith on Baker's part, and might well encourage them
to come forward.
In any event, he should disclose and post these names on his diocesan
website, in his diocesan newspaper and in his parish bulletins, so that
kids today will be safer.
Second, regardless of what happens with the class action process, Bishop
Baker should pledge today that with clergy sex cases in the future, he
will fight fair, not fight dirty, and voluntarily ignore the civil statute
of limitations. He should defend himself and his priests on the merits,
not on the technicalities.
Bishop Baker has a legal right to say "You spoke up too late, your
case should be dismissed." But as a spiritual leader, he has no moral
right to do this. No bishop should ever defend himself in such a cold-hearted,
callous manner. Bishop Baker should reject this hardball legal tactic,
especially if he wants victims to believe he is entering this class action
process in good faith.
We take no position for or against the class action proposal. We applaud
any legal strategy that gives victims more options and that helps expose
the truth. The class action may do this. But individual, conventional
civil child sex abuse lawsuits can also do this. But only if those lawsuits
are allowed to proceed. Bishop Baker should let victims have their day
in court, without blocking victims by exploiting legal technicalities.
(SNAP is an independent, confidential, nondenominational self-help
group founded to help victims of clergy sexual abuse to work through the
life-changing effects of this abuse. Its goals are to help the wounded
and protect the vulnerable. Despite the word priest in its
title, SNAP helps and welcomes anyone who has been sexually molested by
clergy of any denomination (ministers, priests, nuns, brothers, bishops,
rabbis etc.) It focuses on the protection of children, teens and vulnerable
Barbara Dorris 314 503 0003,
David Clohessy 314 566 9790
of those Abused by Priests