The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Friday, October 23, 2009
Clergy sex victims respond to suspension of predator priest
Statement by Barbara Dorris, SNAP Outreach Director, 314 503 0003
We hope this move will encourage others who’ve been victimized to find the courage to step forward and speak up.
An educated, allegedly holy man who holds the revered title of minister or priest cannot ever have truly consensual and/or healthy sexual contact (whether once or repeatedly) with a congregant. It is always morally wrong and psychologically harmful.
This is especially true regarding Catholicism. Catholics have been raised since birth to believe priests are holy and celibate men and God's representatives on earth who can forgive our sins and turn wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Priests always hold an exalted position, and when they have any sexual involvement with parishioners, it is always immoral, unjust and hurtful.
But in any religious setting, there is an inherent power imbalance between clergy and church members. It is like a doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. And for good reason: because it almost always results in devastation, with individuals and with congregations.
It's the duty of church officials to help congregants understand this. And it’s the duty of lawmakers to both help prevent this egregious and hurtful misconduct and to help those who suffer from it expose predators, get healing and achieve justice.
The clearest and easiest way to do this is to reform archaic, arbitrary and predator-friendly laws that don’t acknowledge this reality.
We hope that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered misdeeds or crimes by Sappenfield, or by other clerics, will come forward, get help, expose predators, protect others and start healing.
And for starters, we believe Choby should put Sappenfield in a remote, secure, professionally-run treatment center so that he’ll get help and so that others will be safe.
NOTE – We believe that Fr. Sappenfield worked in a parish in recent years with Bishop Choby before Choby was named bishop.
(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 since 1988 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)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259) Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314 503 0003)
Priest's removal stuns Franklin church
Cleric admits improper relationship
By Harriet Vaughan • THE TENNESSEAN • October 23, 2009
FRANKLIN — Parishioners of St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin spent Thursday digesting the news of Tuesday's removal of their well-liked pastor, Father John Sappenfield.
The Diocese of Nashville announced that Sappenfield had admitted to violating the diocese policy against Abuse of a Professional Relationship with a female adult member of the parish.
Diocese director of communications Rick Musacchio would not give details of Sappenfield's conduct beyond the official announcement.
Several parishioners and staff members contacted Thursday were equally reluctant to talk.
Susan Button, whose family has been a member of St. Philip for five years, said the news hit her hard. "He's young and vibrant and the homilies were something even my children would listen to and get something out of," she said. "We are just devastated and worried about him."
The diocese policy defines abuse of a professional relationship as "an act of sexual misconduct between a cleric or a layperson (i.e., a minister, an employee, or an authorized volunteer) and an adult with whom the cleric or layperson has a relationship based on legitimate expectations of spiritual, pastoral, religious, or ministerial assistance. The term also includes the relationship between a church administrator and respective employees and appointees, and this policy statement will be followed when allegations of sexual harassment are brought against the administrator."
The diocese statement said that Sappenfield will not be assigned to pastor any other churches within the diocese.
Sappenfield has been an active priest with the Nashville Diocese for 10 years. Father Marneni Bala Showraiah, associate pastor of the church, will temporarily take over as church administrator.
Button said the parish is close with Showraiah — known as Father Bala — but that didn't make the news about Sappenfield any easier to take.
'We're all human'
"He was a priest and he knew what the rules were. He knew the boundaries but he's a human being and we make mistakes. Even though you're a priest it doesn't mean you're not a man anymore. I think it's just temptation."
Button said that when The Tennessean broke the news Wednesday, word spread quickly. Parishioners were calling and e-mailing each other with mixed emotions.
They will get a chance to talk about it this weekend with Bishop David Choby, who will be present for services on Saturday and Sunday. Musacchio says Choby will be the one to appoint a new pastor.
"As a Christian, it doesn't matter what religion you are. We're all human," Button said. "We're all going to fall short."
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests