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Bishops should help Ohio stop child molesters

By DONNA KOLLARS, Guest Columnist
Zanesville, OK Times Recorder
January 6, 2006

Twice last month, I traveled to Ohio to do things I never imagined doing.

First, I testified in front of a panel of lawmakers who are considering reforms in the state's child sex abuse laws.

Then, I stood outside a Catholic church, handing out leaflets to parishioners, telling them I'd been molested as a girl by their former pastor.

I'm a private person, a quiet mother of eight wonderful kids. I was petrified at both of these events. But both times, I felt driven to take some action to spare other children the suffering that I endured. And I wanted to reach out to others who may have already been hurt by my perpetrator, and offer support and sympathy.

At both events, I met wonderful, caring people others who had also been sexually abused by priests. But at neither event was I supported by the hierarchy of my church.

In fact, Ohio's bishops are fighting tooth and nail against the very reform that hundreds of concerned Catholics and abuse victims are advocating. We want legislators to help us expose dangerous sexual predators through the time-tested court system. We want them to deter reckless behavior and child molestation by forcing those who employ abusive adults to defend themselves in court.

But church officials oppose these effective steps, claiming constitutional concerns about the proposed legislation. They also argue that they've cleaned up their act in recent years.

But this is not about what bishops have or haven't done in the wake of horrific scandals. It's about how to prevent horrific scandals in the future.

And while we don't know much about what causes some men to molest kids, we do know what can help prevent some of this abuse. It's simple: hold accountable molesters and those who give molesters access to kids. Let victims have their day in court. Allow those who've suffered sex crimes to use the admittedly flawed but fundamentally sound justice system to at least warn parents about dangerous men.

That's what Senate Bill 17 does. That's why so many who have been wounded support it. That's what Ohio bishops should endorse, if they're serious about safeguarding kids from the life-long damage abuse causes.

It's too early to tell, of course, whether our struggle to reform Ohio's archaic and dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations will succeed. But my second trip to Columbus has already succeeded. Within 24 hours of the time we handed out leaflets about Father Benham, I heard from another of his victims. She was molested by this priest when she was just 4 years old!

Nothing we can do will magically restore our shattered trust or our stolen childhoods. But together, we can help one another recover from what this sick clergyman did to us.

And hopefully, together, we can convince Ohio's elected officials to help us expose dangerous predators and those who shield them.

Donna Kollars is a Pennsylvania housewife who is a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide support group. The man who molested her, Francis A. Benham, was a priest at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Zanesville from 1979 to 1984. Kollars can be reached at kollarsj@juno.com.



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