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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SNAP to Miami archbishop: Oust PR staffer from "victims" post

Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com)

Agosta is the archbishop's mouthpiece. She also heads the archbishop's abuse program. She shouldn't be in charge of both.

We don’t want Mary Ross Agosta fired. We’re just convinced that she can’t hold two conflicting jobs at once, and this fact makes it less likely that child sex abuse victims will come forward, expose predators and protect kids.

Both common sense and the Bible tell us you can’t serve two masters. Last week, a Philadelphia grand jury reached the same conclusion. After a lengthy investigation, they determined that church officials “continue to engage in practices that mislead victims, that violate their trust, that hinder prosecution of their abusers.”

They found that church procedures “designed to help victims” are “instead helping the abusers and the archdiocese itself.” They concluded that the church abuse system “is devoid of common sense,” and “reaches the wrong result in the vast majority of (child sex abuse) cases.”

The church staffer who deal with victims have, the jurors concluded, “divided loyalties.” They “hound” victims for statements to “use as ammunition to impeach victims” and “turn over” victims’ statements “to archdiocesan attorneys,” the grand jury determined.

We suspect the same thing is happening in Miami. Why? Because
--over the years, we’ve seen remarkable uniformity in how Catholic officials deal with abuse,
--there’s nothing to suggest that Philadelphia or Miami are aberrations in any way, and
--church abuse staffers here have the same (or perhaps more) divided loyalties as in Philadelphia.

In particular, we are concerned with Agosta. It’s inherently problematic that she wears two different ‘hats’ for the archdiocese. On one hand, she has a combative and highly visible public role as the archbishop’s PR woman, often trying to deny and minimize crimes and misdeeds when child sex abuse allegations surface. On the other hand, however, she heads the archdiocesan office.

There are two clear problems here. One deals with reality. The other deals with perception.

In the real world, a public relations person sits in meetings with the archbishop and his defense lawyers, and almost certainly try to devise ways to “defend the indefensible” and persuade the flock that abusive priests are aberrations and that cover ups aren’t happening. It’s extremely hard for us to imagine that she can play this role while, at the same time, truly being sympathetic and helpful to child sex abuse victims in her other role as head of the archdiocesan “safe environment program.”

(Reminder - Just a few months ago, Willard Trent spoke publicly about the difficulty he and his family had with the Miami archdiocese’s victims department.)

On the perception side, we suspect that Agosta’s playing both roles helps keep some victims silent. Imagine seeing her defending the archdiocese on TV, then realizing that if your report your abuse to the archdiocese, you may end up talking or dealing with her or her staff.

Does anyone really believe that a PR person is the best person to respond to and deal with victims and children’s safety? A PR person will be tempted to look at a clergy sex case and ask “how can I spin this?” instead of “what’s best for the victim?”

And fundamentally, vulnerable kids and wounded adults need and deserve a church staffer with a background in therapy, mental health or another “helping professions,” not a “spin doctor.”

Mental health professionals should be heading these abuse departments for bishops, not lawyers or clerics or PR people.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. 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, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, peterisely@yahoo.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)


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