The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Friday, June 12, 2009
Clergy sex abuse victims respond to new archbishop
Statement by Barbara Dorris, SNAP Outreach Director 314-862-7688
We are saddened but not surprised to learn that another bishop with a troubling track record on clergy sex cases and cover ups has been promoted by the Vatican.
Just two years ago, Aymond publicly opposed the one most simple, inexpensive and proven reform: posting the names of predator priests on church websites, so families can protect their children from these dangerous men.
Just five years ago, he protected the identities of six credibly accused Austin priests, while many of his colleagues across the country were finally disclosing the names of dangerous and potentially dangerous child molesting clerics.
A popular Catholic blogger correctly calls Aymond "media-savvy." That's certainly true. He postures as someone who takes clergy sex crimes seriously. But he acts in largely the same reckless, callous and secretive manner that most bishops long have and still do.
There's a natural tendency among Catholics to assume that their new bishop will surely be more pastoral or open than the retiring bishop. We strongly suspect that's not going to be the case in New Orleans.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 20 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Bishop says no to registry of accused
Chair of clergy sex abuse committee takes stock of five years since charter
By JOE FEUERHERD
The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People told a Georgetown University audience March 20 that he opposes establishing a searchable Internet-based registry containing the names of clergy facing credible accusations of sexual abuse.
"There is very little chance that such a list would be comprehensive or accurate," said Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas. Such a system would likely lead to a "miscarriage of justice," he said.
Comparable to sex offender databases administered by state and local governments, the registry was first proposed to the bishops by Evansville, Ind., Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger in the spring of 2002 as a means for bishops to track clergy abusers as they moved from their diocese of origin to other church jurisdictions. Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse backed the idea, saying widespread dissemination of the information would help protect children.
Several dioceses, including the Baltimore archdiocese, have posted the names of priests with credible accusations against them. The public posting was opposed by some Baltimore priests and others who saw it as primarily a public relations move designed to inoculate the church from additional criticism. Others said it was unfair because the list included the names of deceased priests who were unable to defend or explain their actions.
Rather than a centralized system, Aymond said the release of such information was "best decided on an individual basis by the [clergy abuse] review board of a diocese" and the local bishop. "One size does not fit all, and we have to be very careful," he said.
Further, Aymond said in response to a question, the aggressive efforts of church lobbyists in state legislatures to oppose repeal of the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse are grounded on the well-founded concern that justice cannot be served after many years have passed since an alleged act of abuse. "I think it would be interesting if the states that were proposing this would propose it not just for the Catholic church but for all denominations, all schools ... [and] state officials," he said.
Last year, church officials in Colorado argued that any relaxation of statute of limitations in civil cases should apply equally to public institutions such as schools, an approach that proved effective in defeating the legislation. Church lobbyists in Maryland used similar arguments this year to beat back a measure on civil liability in abuse cases.
"All across the country, it looks like they are reading from the same playbook, making up the same spurious arguments and deflecting attention away from themselves," victim advocate David Clohessy told NCR.
Aymond's comments were part of a wide-ranging presentation and question-and-answer session commemorating the U.S. bishops' institutional response to clergy sexual abuse -- the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People -- following January 2002 revelations that Boston archdiocesan officials protected priest-abusers at the expense of young parishioners.
Aymond, who termed his presentation a "personal reflection," said that the six months following the Boston Globe-reported revelations were "a time of great pain, certainly a time of embarrassment, and one where we all felt a brokenness of spirit."
"We looked at our brother priests and we felt a sense of betrayal. Trusted colleagues that we had worked with, gone to seminary with, been stationed with, and we asked the question, 'How can this be? I did not know that he was so troubled or sick. The signs were not there. Or the signs were there and why didn't we act more quickly, why didn't we put some of this together?' "
Further, said Aymond, it was "painful also because bishops lost creditability because of their actions or their lack of actions."
He said, "Just as Jesus died and was buried so too this church today must die and be buried to rise to new life."
The failure of those in authority to act against abusers was much on the mind of the audience at the Woodstock Institute-sponsored event, which included abuse victims and their family members, journalists, and, as one questioner put it, those "with no dog in this fight."
"If this is the worst scandal in the institution's history in the United States, it seems to me that within the institution someone should be held accountable and responsible," a former insurance company lobbyist told Aymond. "It's hard to understand how in the situation we are in, we have leaders -- cardinals and bishops -- [and] that nobody has been disciplined or held accountable." Aymond responded that some bishops who participated in cover-ups have resigned under Vatican pressure, but that bishops have no authority over other bishops. "We can't hold each other responsible. We are responsible to the pope," he said.
At the same time, said Aymond, bishops have engaged in "fraternal correction" -- the church term for holding a colleague accountable. While not a "police approach," he said, "We are holding ourselves accountable and calling our brothers to be accountable." Aymond said that he personally has contacted other bishops to express dissatisfaction at their handling of abuse issues in their diocese.
On other issues Aymond:
* Said high-quality "safe environment programs" designed to educate both children and adults about child sexual abuse are an essential element of the church's response to sexual abuse. That there have been "fewer cases in recent years" is a "sign of hope," Aymond said.
* Called for priestly formation and seminary programs that are "vigilant" in weeding out candidates who reveal any signs that they might abuse.
* Acknowledged "genuine cover-ups," but said there have also been cases where bishops overly relied on the judgments of therapists and counselors, allowing abusive priests to return to ministry.
* Called on church officials to seek out victims and "offer our apology, healing and counsel."
* Offered "heartfelt and sincere thanks to the individuals and groups that have called us as a church to integrity and repentance and purification."
The leader of one such group, Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the church's response in the five years since passage of the charter has not been impressive.
"There are cases that cry out for some fraternal correction and none ever appears to take place," said Clohessy. "The simplest and most obvious being [Lincoln, Neb., Bishop Fabian] Bruskewitz, who thumbs his nose at the bishops and gets not so much as a slap on the wrist from his colleagues." Bruskewitz has refused to allow audits of his diocese's child protection programs, as called for in the charter, and says the largely lay National Review Board established by the bishops to monitor the church's handling of the crisis is a usurpation of a bishop's role.
Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Diocese Releases Abuse Report but Won't Name Accused Priests
By Eileen E. Flynn, Austin American-Statesman (Texas), January 6, 2004
Six priests who are accused of sexually abusing at least 15 children in the Diocese of Austin during the 1970s, '80s and '90s either have died or are no longer in ministry, according to a report church officials will send to Catholics in the 25-county region this week.
But the diocese will withhold the priests' names and the places they served, Bishop Gregory Aymond said Monday.
Providing details about the accused, he said, would "not be appropriate."
"Just because we say there is a credible allegation is not a court of law saying it happened," Aymond said, "though in today's world, we take action and go the extra 10 miles and make sure they are not in ministry."
The diocese's report comes as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops releases a national audit today on how individual dioceses have complied with the charter on sex abuse. Bishops crafted the charter in June 2002, months after allegations of clergy sex abuse emerged around the country.
Aymond said diocese officials scoured old files of the 400 priests who have served in the Austin Diocese since its 1947 founding and also conducted interviews of victims. The six priests the diocese says molested minors represent 1.5 percent of the clergy over the past 56 years.
"I would say that one case is one too many, because it's sinful and it's wrong, but I'm also grateful that we do not have more cases," Aymond said.
The Diocese of Dallas released its report last week, saying 48 victims made "credible" accusations against 15 priests and one deacon, or 1.4 percent of the clergy since 1950. Charges included verbal and physical abuse, according to the diocese newspaper, Texas Catholic.
The Austin report also cites the $384,000 the diocese has spent on counseling, legal fees and settlements related to sex abuse cases, and it urges victims to notify the diocese about other incidents.
Luise Dittrich, a spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a 30,000-member lay organization based in Boston, said she applauds the bishops' national efforts to inform Catholics. But failing to release names of priests, specific dates and places, she said, is inconsistent with the promise of reform.
"The whole goal of audits like this and reports is to help restore trust," she said. "It doesn't serve the hierarchy well to say one thing and do the other."
Aymond declined to confirm the names or assignments of any of the six priests. But in the past, he has acknowledged allegations made against several clergy who worked in the diocese.
Late last year, the diocese reached a $250,000 settlement with a Houston man who said former Austin priest Dan Delaney molested him in the 1970s. Other people have since come forward with similar allegations against Delaney.
Other priests, including the Revs. Richard Nowery, Dan Drinan, James O'Connor and Rocco Perrone, now deceased, have been accused of molestation in the past few years. The diocese has confirmed that allegations were made against those priests but declined to say whether they were among the six cited in the report.
Since the national scandal broke in January 2002, many victims have found that the statute of limitations has expired for criminal prosecution of the abuser.
In Texas, 1997 legislation expanded the statute for child abuse. A victim can now pursue criminal charges up to 10 years after his 18th birthday, said Dayna Blazey, assistant district attorney for Travis County. But, she added, in most cases that predate the legislation, the law is not retroactive.
Aymond said he has reported to authorities all allegations against the four priests who are still living. But if the bishop reports the allegation after the statute runs out, there's probably little the authorities can do, Blazey said.
The accused have lost their priestly faculties, Aymond said, and are no longer "a threat to children in the name of the church."
One former priest was never prosecuted, however, even though diocese officials suspected that he molested children before removing him from ministry in 1987. He went on to work for an Episcopal church in Houston without a criminal record to impede him.
Aymond said times have changed.
Before the scandal grabbed national headlines in January 2002, the diocese was quietly finishing a new ethics policy that required criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers and mapped out new boundaries for those working with children, among other initiatives.
Over the past three years, more than 18,000 people in the diocese have received training on preventing and identifying sex abuse. About 14,000 people have undergone criminal record checks.
Aymond said that about 100 people either applying to work or already working in the diocese could not have access to children or other vulnerable people because of criminal backgrounds; 14 were denied any kind of role in the diocese.
"We are in conformity with the (national) charter, and we were in the conformity with the charter before it was written," Aymond said. "But that doesn't mean that our work is over. . . . What we are about is protecting children, working for the healing of the abused and trying to live out the gospel message in a more faithful way."
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests