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At 50, I had a flashback to a priest abusing me as a child. Then I decided to confront him

'I was facing difficult truths – and once you start, you don’t want to stop’ ... Mary Dispenza at home in Washington. Photograph: Annabel Clark, The Guardian by Anna Moore Published by The Guardian Mary Dispenza was almost 50 when she experienced her first flashback. At the time, she was in a workshop entitled Sexual Misconduct on the Part of the Clergy, which she had been asked to attend as part of her job in pastoral support for the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Seattle. To this day, she isn’t sure what words unleashed that memory. She recalls only how clammy her hands became and how the room suddenly started spinning as she saw her seven-year-old self being lifted on to the lap of a priest in a dark, empty auditorium. She knew in an instant who he was. Dispenza urgently wanted to leave that workshop, but she sat through to the end. “I didn’t fall apart, I didn’t tell anyone, but it cracked me open and woke me up,” she says. “It was amazing to me that I could really bury that for so long … but that’s what we do to survive.” Dispenza talks of using two “survival strategies”. At first, she buried the knowledge, hiding it from everyone – including herself – as she built a life at the heart of the Catholic church, even spending 15 years as a nun. She describes it as “splitting” – a dissociation so complete that, even as the horror happened, she could function and move forward without giving it any conscious thought. After that flashback, Dispenza needed a new strategy. She confronted her abuser, joined a class-action lawsuit against him for damages and has spent decades supporting other victims and campaigning to hold the church accountable for covering up sexual abuse. It is what she calls “a truth telling”, a move into the light.

SNAP to MO AG: Investigate boarding schools!

April 15, 2024 Dear Attorney General Bailey: As Missouri’s top law enforcement official, we feel strongly that you can no longer ignore the growing crisis involving kids in the essentially unregulated, mostly for-profit, purportedly religious boarding ‘schools’ where dozens of vulnerable kids have been – and likely still are being – abused. Crisis is not an exaggeration given the recent disturbing disclosures of known and suspected child sex crimes that have surfaced at facilities like Agape School in Stockton, Lighthouse Academy in Piedmont, Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Humansville and Kanakuk Kamps in Branson. Ample evidence already exists in the public record that these institutions lack oversight and sometimes attract predators who hurt kids and supervisors who ignore or hide suspicious or criminal acts.

Another Brownsville priest accused of child sexual abuse; SNAP again urges outreach

For immediate release, April 8, 2024 A priest in the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, has been removed from ministry in the wake of an accusation of child sexual abuse. This is the second cleric in the Diocese, that we know of, to be accused this year. The other clergyman was arrested in February. At the time of the arrest, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged the Bishop to do immediate outreach to beg other victims and witnesses to report to law enforcement. We renew our plea as this second case is being investigated by the Diocesan Review Board. Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores received notification on March 15th that Msgr. Gustavo Barrera had been accused of a child sex crime. The priest denied the claim, but submitted his resignation and retirement as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen, and the Bishop accepted this resignation on March 23rd. However, the accusation was not made public until April 3rd.

SNAP stands in solidarity with excommunicated father; says actions of Louisiana bishop will discourage victims from coming forward

For immediate release: March 25, 2024 A Louisiana man, who worked as a Catholic deacon and whose son was sexually assaulted by his priest as a child, has been excommunicated by his former bishop. As far as SNAP can tell, no perpetrator has ever faced this harsh ecclesiastical penalty. We call on the faithful who are appalled by this action to contact the bishop and express their dismay. Scott Peyton’s excommunication from the Church on March 13, 2024, at the hands of Diocese of Lafayette Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel, seems to us to be vindictive, unnecessary, and likely to have a chilling effect on those victims and their families who are also believers. While Scott had worked as a deacon in the Diocese alongside his son Oliver’s abuser, Fr. Michael Guidry, Scott had already stepped away from this position in December, telling the Bishop at the same time that he and his family had moved on to another faith community. We cannot help but consider that the true motive for this excommunication was to discourage victims and their families who are also still practicing Catholics from coming forward in the future. Many of the faithful believe that those who are excommunicated die in a state of sin, and consequently are condemned to hell. Fear of incurring this same penalty would certainly be a powerful deterrent to those who still want to be a part of the Church to stay silent. Bishop Deshotel was also behind the recently successful appeal to overturn the state’s three-year lookback window. That action too is likely to discourage all Catholic victims, not just those who wish to remain communicants, from coming forward. Yet exposing hidden predators and their enablers will help to safeguard children today and in the future. Moreover, the publication of perpetrator names can also be the first step to healing for those still suffering alone and in silence from their abuse.   While the Catholic Church claimed in 2002 to be turning over a new leaf, welcoming the reports of survivors and their families and promising not to hide perpetrators, Bishop Deshotel’s intimidation tactics and hypocrisy gives the lie to those claims, in our opinion. We think it is long past time to push back. As Scott’s case illustrates, even the children of those who work hard to support the mission of the Church can be subjected to the trauma of child sexual abuse, which has life-long consequences. Moreover, while the abusers apparently continue to enjoy protection from Catholic officials, those who speak truth to power seem likely to find themselves punished. If you too find this state of affairs intolerable, please let Bishop Deshotel know how you feel. Let him know in no uncertain terms that his tactics will not prevent anyone from speaking out to protect children. Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel 1408 Carmel DriveLafayette LA 70501337-261-5614 [email protected] CONTACT: Curtis Garrison, SNAP Louisiana and ([email protected], 214-808-2878), Melanie Sakoda, Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578),  Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386) (SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

Abuse victims presser MONDAY 11:15 am (4/15) in Jeff City MO

Victims beg MO AG to intervene in growing scandalFour Christian boarding schools now face abuse reportsSNAP to Bailey: “Investigate, warn parents & prod local prosecutors” Group also asks lawmakers to reform MO's 'predator-friendly statute of limitations' WHATAt a sidewalk news conference - with signs and childhood photos - child sex abuse victims and their supporters will --hand-deliver a letter to Missouri's attorney general – signed by seven victims - urging him to investigate and warn the public about recent reports of abuse at largely unregulated ‘faith-based’ boarding schools in Missouri, --urge anyone who saw, suspected or suffered abuse there to come forward, and --beg lawmakers to reform Missouri’s ‘archaic, arbitrary and predator-friendly’ statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. They will also testify at a legislative hearing in the afternoon and ask legislators to reform outdated child safety laws and give more abuse victims the chance to expose their predators in court. WHENMonday, April 15 at 11:15 a.m. WHEREOn the sidewalk outside the Missouri Attorney General's office, 207 W. High Street (between Broadway and Washington) in Jefferson City

Clergy abuse victims leafletting & news conf Wed 3/20 @ 1:00 p.m. in Alton

  Victims to leaflet church where accused priest was ousted   With little attention, cleric was suspended 6 months ago   A 2nd predator priest, now deceased, also worked there   SNAP: ‘Bishop must do outreach to seek others in pain’   WHAT Six months ago, a priest was quietly suspended after being accused of sexually abusing a child. Clergy sex abuse victims and their supporters will hold a brief sidewalk news conference and then leaflet around a Catholic parish and school where he worked and reportedly molested. WHEN Wednesday, March 20 at 1:00 p.m. WHERE Outside Immaculate Conception-St. Mary's Church, 519 East 4th Street in Alton, IL (618 465 4284)

The Archdiocese of Washington DC (ADW) wants to thwart the will of the people of Maryland by declaring the CVA unconstitutional.

The Archdiocese of Washington DC (ADW) wants to thwart the will of the people of Maryland bydeclaring the CVA unconstitutional. ADW speaks out of both sides of its mouth after relying on funds obtained by the retroactiveapplication of asbestos civil cases. The CVA was passed unanimously in the Maryland legislature and rapidly signed by the governor WHAT: A sidewalk news conference, abuse survivors and advocates who are part of SNAP, the SurvivorsNetwork of those Abused by Priests, will demand that the ADW stop their immoral and unethicalpractices of re-abusing and re-traumatizing survivors by attempting to have the Child Victims’ Act (CVA)declared unconstitutional. In 2017 the ADW, along with the other two dioceses in Maryland quietlysnuck in a provision to the child abuse statutes that seemingly treated child abuse under statute ofrepose restrictions. This seemingly prevented the ability for child abuse lawsuits from EVER beingresurrected through any retroactive changes in the statutes. However, even first year law studentsunderstand that you can pretend to call a pig a duck, but that doesn’t make it a duck. Child abuse simplydoes not follow the definition of repose. The ADW is doing this despite the fact that about 25 years ago,they not only benefited from but actually encouraged the legislature to amend the existing statute ofrepose for asbestos so that they, the ADW, could sue for retroactive damages, which they did. WHEN: Wednesday 3/6/24 at approximately noon (immediately following the hearing scheduled to startat 10 AM)

Take Action and Stop Child Sexual Abuse

If you see child sexual abuse, or have a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse or your child has been sexually abused, call 911 or your local police immediately. 

If you suspect abuse, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or visit the Child Help Hotline. Trained crisis operators staff the lines 24/7 to answer your questions. If necessary, they will show you how to report in your local area.

Child pornography is a federal crime. If you see or suspect images that may be child pornography, report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTip Line


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