In Alabama, ‘archaic’ laws fail Catholic child sex abuse victims

Mark Belenchia remembers the day when he first set eyes on the new Catholic priest in the small Mississippi Delta town of Shelby. It was 1968 at the time and he was 13 years-old.<

“He turned up without his collar on at a baseball game I was playing in,” said Belenchia from his home in Jackson, Mississippi. “He was different from the stuffy priests we were used to. Charismatic, like a breath of fresh air.” “That was Rev. [Bernard] Haddican’s first day on the job. The day he began to groom us.”

While Belenchia’s story takes place in Mississippi, his position as an advocate for sex abuse victims has put him in touch with people from across his home state, Alabama and other parts of the country. He has heard the full scale of sexual abuse against children dating back decades. He has heard grown men cry over the phone as they, for the first time, explain what happened to them. Many of it decades before. Now, with the expected release of a list naming priests and other clergy accused of sexually abusing children over the last 50 years in parts of Alabama and Mississippi, Belenchia is preparing himself for more heartbreaking calls.

“I want to be there for people as much as I can,” said Belenchia, who is an advocate for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) . “but the sad truth is that for most of them time has run out.” Belenchia, now 63, says that any list relea...

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