VA - Group asks embattled VA church: “Let us speak”
Group asks ROC: “Let us speak”
They want to address congregation
Victim's organization holds candlelight vigil
SNAP also urges victims to contact prosecutor
A support group for clergy sex abuse is asking to speak at a troubled Richmond church and urging anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes by two ministers to contact local prosecutors, especially if they’re reluctant to speak with the police.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing the board of the Richmond Outreach Center about Pastor Geronimo Scott Aguilar and Pastor Jason Helmlinger, both of whom recently stepped down from their positions at the ROC.
Aguilar was arrest on May 21 on charges of molesting two girls. Then, days later, Helmlinger was arrested and charged after he made a threatening and obscene phone call to a man who said he’d seen allegedly inappropriate behavior between Aguilar and some church wives.
The ROC board accepted both men’s voluntarily resignations but publicly proclaimed their belief in Rev. Aguilar’s alleged innocence.
SNAP leaders say they are “troubled” by how the board of the Richmond Outreach Center is handling both cases.
With Aguilar, SNAP feels ROC board and church members should keep open minds, and support him, if they must, in private. Publicly backing an alleged child molester, the group says, both intimidates and depresses other child abuse victims into feeling helpless and staying silent about their perpetrators.
With Helmlinger, SNAP feels, the ROC board should have fired him to show other church employees, volunteers and congregants that threatening an Aguilar critic would not be tolerated.
“In light of this, we are asking the ROC board to let one or two of us speak to the entire congregation some Sunday morning soon about how ROC staff and members should respond when accusations of misconduct by church staff emerge,” SNAP’s letter to the ROC board says. The letter notes that SNAP “was founded 25 years ago and has 65 US chapters and another six overseas, so we have had considerable experience in clergy abuse cases, experience we are anxious to share with you so that those who report child sex crimes and cover ups are not deterred and so those who commit and conceal child sex crimes are exposed.”
(On its website, SNAP has published a 21 point brochure called “What to do when your pastor is accused of abuse” - http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/when_priest_accused.htm )
On Sunday night, three members of the group held signs and childhood photos at a silent sidewalk vigil Sunday night outside the John Marshall Courts Building in downtown Richmond. Their goal was to offer support to those hurt at ROC and urge them to “come forward, get help, expose wrongdoing, protect others and start healing.”
SNAP has also learned that at least a few of Rev. Aguilar’s victims are reluctant to contact police because the Richmond Police Department has awarded grants to the ROC in the past. http://www.wric.com/story/22449218/richmond-police-give-tax-payer-dollars-to-roc?=#WNPoll129938
So SNAP is reminding victims, witnesses and whistleblowers that they can – and should – share what they know or suspect about misdeeds by ROC staff with prosecutors, if they have any misgivings about talking with police.
“It’s MORE important THAT possible crimes are reported. It’s LESS important which secular agency or official gets those reports,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP. “We don’t necessarily believe that the funding is in any way inappropriate. But we do understand why some might be hesitant to report crimes by ROC staff to the police. That’s OK. They have other options. But staying silent only helps wrongdoers and encourages wrongdoing and hurts innocent people.”
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and email, is below:
June 6, 2013
Dear ROC board:
We are deeply troubled, in a number of ways, with how you are dealing with recent controversy in your congregation.
Specifically, we’re troubled by the fact that you
-- publicly proclaimed you believed in Pastor Geronimo Aguilar’s alleged innocence and
-- accepted Pastor Jason Helmlinger’s decision to voluntarily step down, instead of harshly and publicly disciplining him.
In the first instance, at best, you unintentionally sent a disturbing signal to victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, that if they speak up about known or suspected child sex crimes, they won’t be believed and that people in authority rally around accused criminals, rather than staying neutral.
In the second instance, at best, you unintentionally missed an opportunity to send a reassuring signal to the public and your flock – not to mention victims, witnesses and whistleblowers – that you take child sex abuse allegations seriously and want to encourage, not discourage, the reporting of them.
In both cases, we are trying to be charitable and give you the benefit of the doubt. We are trying to assume that your misdeeds may be the result of inexperience in dealing with child sex abuse cases.
Our group, on the contrary, has extensive experience in such cases. We’ve been around 25 years and have 65 US chapters and another six overseas, so we have had considerable background in clergy abuse cases, experience we are anxious to share with you so that those who report child sex crimes and cover ups are not deterred and so those who commit and conceal child sex crimes are exposed.
Our hope is that we might be able to explain to your staff and congregants that there are right way and wrong ways to act when child sex abuse reports surface.
For some of what we’ve learned over the past few decades about church members and staff responding to abuse allegations, see http://www.snapnetwork.org/links_homepage/when_priest_accused.htm
In light of this, we are asking the ROC board to let one or two of us speak to the entire congregation some Sunday morning soon about how ROC staff and members should respond when accusations of misconduct by church staff emerge.
We hope to hear from you soon.