- Two groups seek action from bishop
- "Seek out victims & witnesses,” they say
- Priest admits viewing child porn in church rectory
- Zubik should visit every parish where he worked, victims say
- They urge prelate to “stop asking people to call church authorities”
- Sex crimes must be reported to secular-not religious-officials, they say
Two national organizations want Pittsburgh’s Catholic official to stop promoting a diocesan abuse hotline and instead visit churches where a just-arrested priest worked, begging witnesses, whistleblowers and victims to contact police regarding his alleged child sex crimes,
The groups are urging Bishop David Zubik to “aggressively” help law enforcement prosecute Fr. Bart Sorenson who admits having and viewing child porn and against whom additional charges were filed yesterday. And they want an explanation about why Sorenson took a leave from his post in 2003.
The organizations are the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Dayton-based National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC).
They’re upset because Zubik keeps urging those with information about Sorenson to call church officials instead of secular officials.
“You keep saying that people should call a diocesan phone number. Bishop, you know that’s wrong. People should call the police,” the groups' letter to Zubik says. “The independent professionals in law enforcement, not the biased amateurs in church offices, must be contacted about possible child sex crimes.”
“It’s shameful that even now, in 2011, Zubik is saying ‘call us’ instead of ‘call the cops’" says Kris Ward of NSAC. "And because Sorenson could be locked up and kept away from kids, it’s crucial that Zubik go beyond the bare minimum and make real steps to bring forward others who could help prosecutors keep this dangerous man behind bars."
“Bishops always claim to be ‘cooperating’ with law enforcement, but in reality, they passively sit back and wait for the phone to ring. That’s irresponsible,” said Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director. “Zubik has parish websites and bulletins and staff that he could use to really seek out anyone who’s hurting and offer them help, and find anyone with information and prod them to speak up.”
Both groups are skeptical of Fr. Sorenson’s “personal leave of absence” in 2003, and they want Zubik to disclose whether that was connected with knowledge or suspicions of sexual misdeeds by Fr. Sorensen.
Fr. Sorenson worked most recently at St. John Fisher Church in Churchill. But the groups want Zubik to visit every place he lived or spent time and personally beg victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to call police.
For the sake of public safety, SNAP wants Zubik to post on his diocesan website the names, photos and whereabouts of all proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics. Roughly 30 US bishops have done this. It’s the least any bishop who wants to protect kids should do, SNAP feels.
The NSAC and SNAP letter to Zubik, sent this morning by fax and e mail, is below:
Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511, SNAPJudy@gmail.com
Kristine Ward, NSAC Chair,, 937-272-0308, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Clohessy, SNAP National Director, 314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Dear Bishop Zubik,
As you know, Fr. Bart Sorenson was arrested on Saturday for possession of child porn. Victims, parents, parishioners and the public need and deserve answers and action from you.
Specifically, they need you to use your vast resources to
--help find others who can help law enforcement get the full truth, and
--clearly and strongly indicate that secular officials, not church officials, should investigate these alleged crimes.
It's possible that Fr. Bart may have harmed other kids, along with those who are pictured in the child porn photos. We beg you to do real outreach not just one time, at one parish, in one announcement so that police and prosecutors can convict him and keep him away from kids.
And in that outreach, we beg you to emphasize again and again that suspected child sex crimes are, in fact crimes and should be dealt with by criminal authorities. (Old habits die hard. For decades, bishops have urged parishioners and the public to report suspicions internally. That’s obviously not worked. Changing this long-standing practice will take concerted effort.)
Since Fr. Sorenson has worked in several places, we urge you to personally visit each site where he spent time and strongly encourage anyone who may have knowledge, witnessed, or been harmed to contact police. (We understand you may be going to one parish this weekend. That’s a start. But you must go to every place where he was.)
Your message, in any outreach effort, however, must be clear the independent professionals in law enforcement, not the biased amateurs in church offices must be contacted about possible child sex crimes.
We’re troubled by your comments in an interview with KDKA TV. You mentioned that people should call some diocesan phone number.
Bishop, you know that’s wrong. People should call the police. And you mentioned that computers in the places where he worked would be checked. It’s not clear, however, whether you plan to have your staff do this or let the police do it.
Sadly, because of Pennsylvania’s archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly statute of limitations, very few victims ever have the chance to pursue justice in court against predators. But in this case, there's an active police investigation and the liklihood that Fr. Sorenson will be criminally convicted.
So in most clergy child sex cases, your efforts aren’t likely to have an impact on keeping dangerous clerics away from kids.
This case, however, is somewhat different. If you act promptly and responsibly, you could be very helpful to police, prosecutor, and parents. You could make a difference here. But you must act differently. You can’t hide behind your desk, your defense lawyers, and your public relations staff. You must do everything in your power to bring forward those with information about Fr. Bart’s misdeeds and steer them toward law enforcement.
Also, for the sake of public safety, we urge you to post on the Pittsburgh diocesan website the names, photos and whereabouts of all proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics. Roughly 30 US bishops have done this (even your widely discredited colleague in Philadelphia, Justin Rigali and your former Wisconsin colleague Timothy Dolan). It’s the least any bishop who wants to protect kids should do, None of them have been sued for doing this. None of them have expressed regrets about having done this. And there can be little doubt that such transparency has made kids safer.
Why won’t you take this simple, inexpensive uncontroversial, common sense safety step?
We are getting calls from concerned Pittsburgh Catholics and parents who are worried about the safety of their children. They want, need and deserve to have more information about the illegal activities of Fr Sorenson, and the whereabouts of all predator priests proven, admitted and credibly accused.
Finally, we urge you to explain why Fr Sorenson was absent on leave in 2003, the year following the widespread eruption of clergy sex crimes and cover ups on the national scene. Through experience, we have learned that often such vague phrases in a cleric’s work history are indications of other sexual misdeeds by him. You have promised your flock “openness and transparency” in child sex abuse cases. We call on you to be “open” about this alleged “leave.”
We anticipate your urgent response and taking action to help get child predators in jail so that no more kids are at risk of being sexually violated.
Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director,
17170 Deer Mountain Rd.
Marthasville, Mo. 63357
Chair, National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC)
438 Wonderly Drive