Another “feel good, do nothing” papal meeting with survivors

For immediate release: Sunday, Sept. 27

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those abused by Priests (314 566 9790[email protected])

Is a child anywhere on earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims? No.

A smart public relations move. That’s what this meeting is.  Nothing more.

It fits church officials’ carefully-crafted narrative. Years ago, prelates pretended the abuse and cover up weren’t happening. That no longer works. So now they pretend it’s not happening NOW, that it’s all “in the past” and only healing remains to be done. They know, however, this is deceptive and dangerous.

To give some perspective, let’s assume that roughly the same percentage of priests molest the same percentage of kids across the globe. In the US, in 2012, two church experts estimate 100,000 kids in the US. 

The US is about 6% of the world’s population. If you do the math, that means there are more than 1.5 million men and women on this planet who have been raped, sodomized or molested by Catholic priests.

(And remember, we’re basing this on estimates from church officials which are, of course, notoriously low. More than 20 years ago, sociologist and author Fr. Andrew Greeley made the same estimate – 100,000 US victims of predator priests - in the Jesuit magazine America.)

And literally countless kids are now vulnerable to abuse by clerics today. That’s where Francis should focus: stopping abuse and cover up now and in the future, not conveniently implying that only healing is needed now. He could meet with a thousand victims. But that wouldn’t safeguard a single child.

A doctor’s first rule is to do no harm. That should be a pope’s first rule too. Stop current sexual violence and cover ups now. Prevent future ones. Then worry about ‘healing.’ Symbolic gestures can come years down the road.

We noted before that Bernie McDaid of Boston, a survivor who met with Pope Benedict, now feels deeply disappointed and betrayed. calling the meeting "self-serving." (see below)

Yesterday, we heard from an abuse survivor who met with Francis last year, Mark Vincent Healy of Ireland. He told us, in an email, that “since my meeting with Francis last July 2014, nothing has been delivered on in any substantive program in response to the life-long suffering and enormous distress which is inflicted mentally, physically, socially and economically.”

The first time Francis met with survivors, his top spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi said "The most important thing the Pope hopes to come out of this occasion, is that the victims themselves felt welcomed and listened to." Francis is a charming man and superb communicator. He’ll accomplish this in the US too. But let us not forget that by doing so, he helps no children at all.

In Argentina, over the years, some brave victims have stepped forward. They are the ones Francis could have helped most. But he rebuffed them. (As best we can tell, and based on research from, he refused to meet with victims during the entire time he headed the Buenos Aires archdiocese.)

(NOTE: If we use the actual Catholic population of the US, not just the overall US population, these figures don’t appreciably change.


Here’s what I said about this meeting last Sunday:

We believe Francis will meet soon, likely in DC, with a handful of carefully-chosen victims in a tightly-choreographed setting. And we’re convinced that it will be essentially meaningless.

It will bring short term joy to some but real healing to few and protection to no one.

Almost every survivor cares most about prevention. That’s also what helps us heal best: knowing that our pain prompts action that might spare even one child a lifetime of devastation from sexual violence.

Francis and his colleagues, however, refuse to take that action. Brave and bold on other topics, here Francis plays it safe and timid. He and his underlings prefer to talk ‘healing.’ It’s safer, easier, less controversial and more comfortable than the hard work of prevention. (The more skeptical would also point out that it’s more self-serving to talk ‘healing’ than initiate reform.)

Kids are safer when we acknowledge that every day, several boys and girls are being sexually assaulted by Catholic clerics. Every day, thousands of Catholic officials selfishly sit on secrets about child molesting clerics that police and prosecutors could use to pursue and prosecute these criminals.

So we beg Francis to stop acting like the abuse and cover ups are over and that only healing is needed. That’s disingenuous and dangerous.

Many victims feel worse, not better, when we see papal photo ops and other symbolic moves that do more to help church officials’ reputations and church members’ morale than truly help vulnerable kids and wounded survivors.

Popes have met with victims before. These meetings breed complacency. Again, they do nothing for prevention. And the ‘healing’ they provide for a tiny handful of carefully-chosen victims is usually very short lived.

Boston survivor Bernie McDaid was among the few victims at the 2008 meeting with Pope Benedict. He now says such a meeting with Francis would serve no purpose, because it would be symbolic and not substantive, arguing that church officials continue to treat victims poorly.                    

We’re reminded of Matthew 7:9-11 - “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

Nearly every survivor feels “I just don’t want this to happen to another child.” So we ache for prevention. Francis should too. And if he does, he would show it through decisive steps to

--publicly defrock, demote, discipline and denounce bishops who hide and enable child sex crimes,

--post predators' names, photos and whereabouts on church websites,

--turn over all files about clerics who commit and conceal sexual violence to police,

--adopt the recommended reforms made by two United Nations' panels, and

--force bishop to lobby for, not against, improved secular child safety laws.

It bears repeating: boys and girls are being raped today by priests, nuns, bishops and seminarians. No one knows how many. But history, psychology and common sense tell us this is true. Why won’t Francis acknowledge and address this, not with gestures and symbolism and study panels and policy tweaks but with tangible, immediate and effective prevention steps?

We predict Francis will meet with victims from the “growth areas” of the US church, like the Southwest. We predict he’ll meet with some Hispanic survivors. And we predict those survivors will leave the meeting glowing.

But we worry about them feeling even more hurt and betrayed later, when promises are broken and hopes are dashed. (Thousands of us who have heard soothing words from smart clerics have had this painful experience.) We hope these survivors take care of themselves and avoid the temptation to believe that some face time with a powerful prelate will translate into prevention.

(NOTE: For years, Argentine victims were rebuffed by Francis when he headed the Buenos Aires archdiocese:

(NOTE: Almost a year and a half into his papacy, last summer, Francis first met with victims:

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected][email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747[email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259[email protected]), Joelle Casteix(949-322-7434[email protected]), Becky Ianni (703-801-6044[email protected])


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