VA--Victims group discloses a "disturbing letter"
Victims' group discloses a “disturbing letter”
It shows church kept abuse report hidden
Support group blasts Mennonite officials for “secrecy”
SNAP: “Suspected crimes must be reported to police”
Holding signs and photos, abuse victims and their supporters will
--disclose a letter showing that church officials hid suspected crimes for a year and a half,
--give a copy of the letter to police, and
--urge anyone who sees, suspects or suffers abusive crimes to tell secular officials, not church officials.
Wednesday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m.
Outside the Harrisonburg Police Department headquarters, 101 N. Main Street, (corner of W. Elizabeth and N. Main across from the old Post Office), Harrisonburg, VA
Two members of a support group called SNAP*, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
On Sunday, officials at Lindale Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg gave congregants a letter about Luke Hartman, a Mennonite church leader and former Eastern Mennonite University vice president who faces charges of soliciting prostitution.
In the letter, church officials admit that “an abusive relationship . . .was brought to our attention in August 2014” involving a victim “who has been deeply traumatized by Hartman.” They claim they initiated “disciplinary measures” and have been “attempting to hold Luke accountable for his actions.”
Leaders of SNAP believe Lindale pastors and board members “had a civic and moral duty to call police immediately about this report” and “have no business trying to handle alleged crimes quietly and internally.” The group is urging law enforcement to investigate whether church officials broke any laws, especially “their obligation to report suspected violent crimes” to secular officials.
In January, when Hartman was arrested for soliciting prostitution, SNAP urged others who might have seen, suspected or suffered any misdeeds by him to come forward. The group has since heard from others who he hurt. Hartman was caught in a sting operation by Harrisonburg Police Department and Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office.
“We said weeks ago that we believe Eastern Mennonite University, Mennonite Church USA, and Virginia Mennonite Conference officials may have withheld information concerning Hartman’s possible criminal behavior,” said Barbra Graber of Harrisonburg. “Now, tragically, it appears our suspicions may be confirmed. We’re very sad that church superiors apparently gave him continued access to vulnerable students, staff and church members for more than a year.”
“We urge Mennonite church institutions and agencies to use every possible means to aggressively seek out and support victims, witnesses and whistleblowers in reporting to a trained law professional or independent agency what they suspect or know about violent misconduct of any Mennonite church worker, ordained or lay,” said David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP. “It’s not enough to prosecute Hartman. Those who conceal reported crimes – as well as those who commit them – must be investigated and, if possible, pursued.”
SNAP is also upset that the Lindale church officials’ letter to congregants made no mention at all of police and prosecutors. “They didn’t call law enforcement officials in 2014 or 2015 and even now, aren’t urging others to call law enforcement,” said Graber. “It’s is incredibly irresponsible, risky and arrogant for Lindale’s pastoral staff and board of elders to try to handle this ‘in house.’ A seminary degree does not train one to conduct criminal investigations.”
*Even though “Priests” is in its title, SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org) is open to persons of faith or no faith who were sexually violated by anyone inside or outside a faith community. SNAP is the world’s oldest and largest support group for sexual abuse survivors and their loved ones. It was founded by victims of Catholic priests in 1988 and now has more than 21,000 members in over 79 countries. See the Oscar winning Best Picture, “Spotlight,” about SNAP’s role in helping to uncover the clergy abuse crisis in Boston.