How to Best Make Reports to the Bishop and Law Enforcement
By Steve Bartley, A SNAP Member and a Survivor, January 17, 2020
My Guidelines for Victims of Clerical Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Assault, Molestation, Abuse, Stalking, etc.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, you are probably the victim of sexual assault if someone:
- Touches you without your permission
- Forces you into sexual acts through physical force or coercion
- Violates you while you are asleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs; forced or intimidated you to perform sexual acts
- Penetrates you with parts of their body or an object
- Intimidates you into performing sexual acts without your consent
- If you have been abused either as a child or as a vulnerable adult
- Child abuse is never the fault of children. They cannot consent – and we need to make sure that everyone knows that the only people to blame for these despicable acts are child abusers and the institutions that protect them
If you have experienced a sexual assault or abuse from a religious cleric, priest, nun, or church employee or volunteer, you may:
- Feel a range of emotions including, but not limited to, helplessness, anger, sadness, and shock
- Be overwhelmed or confused about what to do
- Not want to see friends or family, or have difficulty connecting to others
- Feel pain, bleeding, and have discharge from your genitals, anus or mouth
- Have nightmares or flashbacks
- Have changes in your eating or sleeping patterns
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Feel unaffected, detached, and numb
I will start by reminding the reader that the Catholic Church or any other religious entity does not have the independence, professional training, or expertise to determine which allegations of sexual abuse are “credible” and authentic. That is a job best left for secular authorities, not the Church, to fully investigate and determine if an allegation has merit. Internal investigation by the Church, the Bishop, religious orders is never sufficient or truly complete and authentic. This is why I always recommend, Hell I demand it, that reports of abuse by clergy be made first and foremost to Law Enforcement and/or the District Attorney. (Some information above comes from the Crossroads Symposium, “A Church in Crisis.”)
The decision to report to Law Enforcement and the Diocese is entirely yours. Some survivors say that reporting and seeking justice helped them recover and regain a sense of control over their lives. I know this is true in my own case. Understanding how to report and learning more about the experience can take away some of the unknowns and help you feel more prepared. It is important to make a report whether the sexual assault, abuse, or molestation happened to you, the victim, as a child (under age 18) or as an adult. Both are violations of criminal, civil, and canon law.
If your abuse or sexual assault occurred someplace other than where you now live, I highly suggest that you not only make a report to the Law Enforcement jurisdiction where the abuse occurred, but also make one to the Law Enforcement agency where you now live. I found this true in my case, where I made reports to numerous Law Enforcement agencies in Texas where I had been molested, abused, and assaulted and never heard a word from them until I made a local report here where I live. I informed the Investigator here in Colorado of this, and asked her to send my report to every agency in Texas that I had already sent reports to as a courtesy to me and to assure that those agencies actually received them. I provided her with a list, including addresses, of each agency. And she did that for me.
Keep in mind that I had sent my reports to each Texas Law Enforcement agency via certified mail, signature and proof of service, and I received a notification back that each had received it. Yet not one single agency contacted me until my local, Colorado Springs Police Department, Sexual Assault Division Investigator, sent her report and my report to them. Even then, only 2 out of 5 contacted me. But at least I know that all 5 agencies received my reports as verified later by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Fear, shame, guilt and conflict may discourage victims from coming forward if sexual violence was committed by someone with whom they have a significant relationship, like the clergy or persons affiliated with your church.
You must not be discouraged that Law Enforcement or the District Attorney responds that your case is old and does not fit the Statutes of Limitations where your abuse occurred. There will likely be no active investigation, and that is OK. Law Enforcement must still accept a case report, and if your case is old, it must and will be titled most likely as an “Information Case” only. And that is just fine too. What you, a victim of a predator abuser, is doing now is getting your story, your nightmare, your suffering on an official record forever. It is important to have already made the report to law enforcement before sending the same report to the Diocese, Bishop, Archbishop, religious order, etc. This is a process you must undertake. The report to the Diocese or religious Order should always include the Police Report or Case Number. Normally you will be contacted by the Bishop’s “Victim Assistance and Safe Environment Coordinator.” The Bishop is too busy with other church matters to respond personally. You need to let the responsible Diocese know you are serious, honest, and are making a factual, authentic, and credible report by showing that you have already made appropriate reports of sexual abuse, assault, molestation, etc. to Law Enforcement.
You should include in your narrative portion that: You suffered personal, physical, and psychological injuries and damages as a result of Reverend ***** actions.” And list what those are as best you can. The Archdiocese of San Antonio and others are now required to respond immediately to any allegation of sexual misconduct brought against a church minister, priest, brother, nun or church personnel, including members of religious orders working in their Archdiocese, past or present. If a report of allegations is received involving a Religious Order cleric, the report must immediately be forwarded to that cleric’s Religious Order as well. My experience is that they do comply with this, as my sexual assaults were done by “incardinated religious order” clerics” in Texas. That is, the Diocese or Archdiocese was aware of these clerics working in their jurisdiction and gave formal approval, blessing, and status of their pastoral service.
What we are essentially doing here is getting through the plethora of required bureaucracy documentation, and “going through the gates of authenticity.” We are trauma victims who were not at fault, and we detest persons who are not “authentic.” If you take the time to compose your report with details, dates, times, locations, etc. it will be authentic. No matter how long ago it occurred. Since the Diocese or Religious Orders will ask for the same information as Law Enforcement, just do your report to include what everyone will need. Most Dioceses now have available on line a procedure and a policy for reporting sexual misconduct on the part of their church personnel.
As an example, the Archdiocese of San Antonio web site has a window at the very bottom of their front page web site titled “Child Protection”, and will walk you through the necessary steps. There is another window at the top of this page which is titled: “Report Misconduct”, but that is not where you need to be – confusing isn’t it! That one is apparently for reporting misconduct like theft, bullying, or harassment… who knows. Personally, I feel the bottom one is also misleading, as it is titled “Child Protection”, and we know many abuses, sexual assaults were done when victims were vulnerable adults, and they should be reported as well, not just children under age 18. As in my case, I was abused by the same priest both as a child and as an adult. Report everything at all ages.
If for some reason the Diocese where you wish to make a report does not exhibit a link for making a report of abuse, then find their “contact” link and call them and find out what is required as to policies and procedures and get a copy of it. Each Diocese has its own ground rules and bureaucracy regarding reporting and how they investigate and classify abuses.
Be sure to include:
- The nature of the alleged abuse
- The name and age of the victim at the time of the alleged abuse
- Your current age at time of the report (include your date of birth)
- Your contact information, including address, phone and email, etc.
- If you have a photo of the abuser, perpetrator then include that as well.
- If your abuser has already been mentioned in a news media article, then include that too
- If your abuser is already identified in the Bishop’s list of credibly accused, include that too
- If your abuser is already listed in the Bishops Accountability database, then include that information as well, and quote word for word what the List says about him/her
- The full name of the perpetrator, and if possible, where he is located today – if deceased, then so state this as well
- The dates, times, locations, and frequency of the abuse, assaults, etc. If you describe in detail the premises it is even more authentic – i.e. bedroom, office, rectory, sacristy, your own home, seminary, vehicle, a public park, etc. Be as descriptive and specific as possible.
- Include a narrative by you that describes your years of suffering; your physical, emotional, trauma, stalking, grooming, any counseling you have already had at your own cost, substance abuse caused by the trauma of the abuse, fear of retaliation, betrayal of trust, impacts on your family and all relationships, etc. Take your time and be authentic and be complete.
As a sidebar here, there is a list now published by an attorney including the abuser’s name, state, and details. Since we all know that many predator priests were moved from state to state, you should check this list to see if “your abuser” is listed in any other state besides where you were abused. I was shocked to find one listed in another State besides Texas. https://www.andersonadvocates.com/Documents/Index
When I initially contacted SNAP about my own abuse and sexual assault, (2009) 10 years before I actually was able to make reports to Law Enforcement and the Dioceses (in 2019), I was told I needed to do several things as soon as possible:
- Report the assaults and abuse to Law Enforcement, no matter how long ago, and in my case it was almost 50 years old!
- Report the abuse and assaults to the Diocese where they occurred.
- Obtain counselling
- Contact an attorney for assistance and for advice; and possible civil litigation and compensation (atonement)
- Report the abuse and assaults to the media
- Always remember that you are not at fault; you are a victim and a wonderful survivor
The burden I still carry today on my conscience is the fact I did not report the abuse sooner, and perhaps could have saved others from being victimized by these predatory and sinful, criminally responsible, priests and clerics.
Disclaimer: All the information I have provided here is free for anyone to use or in any article hereafter and is true from my own experience only. It is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge. Information herein should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by me, or any person or organization relying directly or indirectly on information published by me. All guidelines above are the views of myself, the author, individually.