The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Wednesday, October 14, 2009
SNAP on Fr. Thomas Gleeson
Statement by Judy Jones
We're here today for two reasons - to protect the vulnerable and to heal the wounded.
We're here at the cathedral specifically because it is the figurative center of this diocese and because the bishop is ultimately responsible for the safety and well being of every Catholic in his jurisdiction.
We know that the Jesuits, the diocese and Wheeling Jesuit University are separate entities.
We know that Fr. Thomas Gleeson's not a university employee and likely isn't here often.
We know that Gleeson hasn't been convicted of a crime.
We know that his west coast Jesuit supervisors claim that the allegations against him are "unsubstantiated."
But we suspect that the sexual harassment allegations against Gleeson are credible and that only a handful of people in West Virginia know about them.
And we know what the safest course of action is here: suspend him from his board position, investigate the charges, and then take whatever action is appropriate based on the findings.
No institution can really police itself, so we hope that if anyone has seen, suspected or suffered any misdeeds by Gleeson, they will call police. The allegations against him by a young seminarian apparently don't reach the level of crimes. But, for the safety of West Virginia citizens and Wheeling Jesuit University students, the allegations need to be investigated.
In 2002, the US Catholic church adopted a national clergy sexual misconduct policy. It mandates "openness" in cases of alleged clergy misdeeds. And it requires that a priest who is credibly accused of sexual abuse be suspended while the case is investigated.
After that policy was adopted, many bishops re-examined earlier allegations that had once been ignored, dismissed or deemed 'unsubstantiated.' Dozens of Catholic clerics, who had been accused but kept in ministry, were suspended. That's what we want to see happen here with Gleeson.
Why are we here now?
Because we just recently learned that Gleeson is apparently on the university's board..
Because there's no time like the present to err on the side of safety.
Because there's no time like now to warn innocent teens and vulnerable young adults.
Because if someone abuses his authority over one young person, he's apt to do it again.
Because if someone's been credibly accused of sexual misconduct in one setting and they remain in the same kind of setting, that's problematic and risky.
Because we've spoken with John Bollard and find him to be extremely credible.
And, finally, because very, very few sexual misconduct allegations against Catholic clergy prove to be wrong, especially in cases where victims actually file lawsuits and church officials settle those lawsuits.
Catholic officials, we expect, will deny and minimize and split hairs here.
They'll deny that Gleeson sexually harassed the young seminarian in California.
They'll minimize Gleeson's alleged misdeeds, claiming harassment isn't as bad as actual physical abuse or that sexual misconduct with someone over 18 is less egregious than someone under 18.
They'll split hairs and say that the bishop has no control over the university.
They'll parse words and say that the national sex abuse policy only covers children who are victimized, not young adults.
But keep in mind these facts:
First, church officials paid a settlement to Gleeson's accuser.
Second, as best we can tell, no one has claimed or is claiming that Gleeson is innocent.
Third, Gleeson's accuser took legal action against this priest years before the church's current sex abuse and cover up scandal began making headlines.
Fourth, over the past decade, Gleeson's accuser hasn't changed his story.
Fifth, over the past decade, neither Gleeson nor his supervisors have disclosed anything that might prove his accuser is wrong or that he is, in fact, innocent.
And sixth, finally, church officials insisted on a 'gag order,' limiting what Gleeson's accuser could say publicly.
Given all this, it hardly seems likely that Gleeson's accuser is wrong. Neither Gleeson nor his supervisors are acting in any way that suggests their innocence.
The bottom line is that there are two choices here: making excuses, doing nothing, and jeopardizing students, or being cautious, taking action, and protecting students.
Common sense and reasonable prudence should prevail over all of these legalistic and self-serving justifications. After all, everyone can almost always find reasons to sit back and do nothing. That approach, sadly, is all too-typical of the Catholic hierarchy. That approach is one reason thousands of Catholic priests, nuns, bishops and lay employees have sexually violated tens of thousands of once-trusting boys and girls and seminarians. That approach must change.
Finally, we might feel a little different about Gleeson being on the Wheeling Jesuit University board if we had seen any indication that anyone ever warned local citizens about the accusations against him and the settlement involving him.
As best we can tell, however, neither Gleeson or the school or the university or the diocese have ever alerted any Wheeling area Catholics or Wheeling University students, staff or alums about the allegations against Gleeson.
That, by itself, is troubling. So again, we ask that if anyone here, or elsewhere, has seen, suspected or suffered misdeeds by Gleeson - please come forward, speak up, get help, protect others, and start healing.
And we ask that someone - the university, the bishop, the Jesuits of this province - suspend Gleeson from his board post and investigate the allegations against him, particularly in light of the church's 2002 sexual misconduct policy.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests