For immediate release: Wednesday, April 23, 2014
For more info: David Clohessy, 314-566-9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Abuse victims seek apology
Top Baptist official attacked them
He called support group "opportunistic"
Group wants to speak at SBC annual meeting
A victims group is asking the head of the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for his "very hurtful comment" about the organization and for a chance to speak at the annual SBC meeting in Baltimore this summer.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Frank Page hoping to talk about preventing clergy sex crimes before thousands of Baptist who will gather in Baltimore this summer. And they want Page to publicly apologize for what they call his "hurtful comment” in 2007 when he wrote that their group was “nothing more than opportunistic persons motivated by personal gain.”
"Publicly castigating brave clergy sex abuse survivors effectively demonizes and hurts already wounded men and women who were traumatized as kids," said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP. “We hope that, over the past few years, [Page will] have reflected on [his] words and realized the extraordinary harm he has caused," Clohessy added.
He also said that SNAP has “25 year of experience working with victims,” so the organization “can help SBC get their abuse policy and handling of victims where it needs to be.”
Among other reforms, SNAP urges church officials, including Southern Baptist officials, to establish review boards to hear molestation reports and instituting and enforcing a 'zero-tolerance' policy.
"The way Baptist officials have responded to sexual abuse has been unproductive and does not make kids safer against clergy-predators," said Amy Smith of Dallas, SNAP leader.
Below is the letter from SNAP, sent today by email and fax, to Dr. Page.
(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 25 years and have more than 15,000 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)
Dr. Frank Page
Committee Southern Baptist Convention
901 Commerce Street
Dear Dr. Page:
We make three requests:
1. Seven years ago this month, you wrote a column (published in the Florida Baptist Witness) in which you described a support group for abuse survivors as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons motivated by personal gain.” As was noted in EthicsDaily at the time, the only group that was publicly speaking out about Baptist clergy sex abuse was SNAP, an organization whose members are, for the most part, people who were molested, sodomized and raped by clergy when they were children. So, by publicly castigating SNAP members as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons,” you effectively demonized and dismissed clergy sex abuse survivors. And you deterred others who were sexually violated as children from speaking up, exposing predators and protecting others.
We hope that, in these subsequent years, you have been able to reflect on your words and to realize the extraordinary harm in what you wrote. So, on this anniversary of your caustic rhetoric, we sincerely request a public apology.
For many clergy sex abuse survivors, such a derisive put-down served only to magnify the harm. Indeed, shortly after your column made print, we heard from one clergy abuse survivor who said she could scarcely breathe upon seeing your words. That’s how hurtful those words were. And not only were your words extremely hurtful in causing additional pain to child rape victims, but they were also hurtful in terms of fostering a climate of hostility toward clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. Coming from such a high official in the largest Protestant denomination, your words set a terrible example for other church and denominational leaders. So again, we ask for your public apology – better late than never.
2. Since you are now president of the SBC Executive Committee, we ask you to fund and conduct the study that Southern Baptist messengers directed the Executive Committee to make by a near unanimous vote at the SBC annual meeting in 2007. That study was supposed to consider the development of a denominational database to help churches identify clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or who have personally confessed to conduct constituting abuse. Yet, though the Executive Committee produced a document rejecting the idea of a denominational database, that document did not carry the usual indicia of a legitimate study. Instead, it appeared to be little more than the write-up of a predetermined conclusion. Indeed, SBC spokesperson Roger Sing Oldham specifically told the Nashville Scene at the time that there had been no budget allocated for such a study. And where was the data for the study? What outside experts were consulted and what testimony or opinions did they offer? Where is there any transcript of any hearings conducted? Was there even an attempt made to gauge the extent of the problem? And what about any charts to provide comparison with the processes of other major faith groups for handling clergy abuse claims? In compliance with that near unanimous vote of the SBC’s delegates, we ask that you finally conduct a legitimate study and that you do so in a manner that is transparent for all to see. In this networked day and age, it is simply incredible to imagine that this powerful denomination cannot find a way to cooperatively use its denominational structures so as to keep accessible records on church-hopping clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
3. We ask that a representative of SNAP be allowed to speak at the next SBC annual meeting in June 2014 in Baltimore, or alternatively, to at least speak to the Executive Committee at its session immediately preceding the annual meeting. As president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, you have the power and influence to grant this request and thereby to nudge greater awareness and compassion for clergy abuse survivors within your faith group.
In conclusion, rather than disparaging those who speak out about this terrible darkness within the SBC, and rather than dismissing those abuse survivors who seek better protections for church-kids, we urge you to provide strong leadership on this dreadful problem, to reach out with a voice of compassion to those who have endured such crimes within the SBC, and to finally conduct the study that was voted for in 2007.
Executive Director, SNAP
SNAP leader Texas