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SNAP
Statement



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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

Statement 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 nation’s 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 Charleston’s 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 forward.

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 crimes.

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 wounded.

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 adults.)

CONTACT:
Barbara Dorris 314 503 0003,
David Clohessy 314 566 9790

 

 


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


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