Letter to Senator Lisa Murkowski from SNAP Leadership
Dear Senator Murkowski:
We are leaders of SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, an international non-profit organization that has spent the past thirty years advocating for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, working to prevent future cases of sexual violence, and exposing cases of institutional abuse. We are writing to you today regarding a concerning situation that involves your hometown and a serially abusive Catholic priest who was quietly sent there.
Fr. Gary Carr was sent to Ketchikan from Missouri and over the course of his career he also was shuffled at various times to New Mexico and Arizona. He is accused in multiple lawsuits in Missouri of sexually abusing children, and the diocese that he originally worked in has identified him as a credibly accused child abuser. In Ketchikan, Fr. Carr worked as the principal at Holy Name Catholic School, a position he held despite already having been accused of sexual abuse in the early 1990s.
The shuffling of abusive priests from location to location is a key part of the Catholic Church’s playbook for avoiding scandal, and we strongly believe that Fr. Carr’s time in Ketchikan was an attempt by his bishops to get him away from trouble he caused in previous assignments.
We are asking for your help and support in launching either a state or a federal investigation into not only Gary Carr’s assignment to Alaska, but also a more in-depth study into the question of how so many dangerous men were dumped into unsuspecting communities into your state, a practice that ensured many children were victimized by priests who were hired, ordained, and trained somewhere else.
Alaska, although small in population, has had an outsized role in the Catholic sex abuse scandal. According to our analytics, Alaska has the worst ratio of parishioners to abusive clerics in the United States. Whereas the average in the lower 48 is about 1 abusive cleric to every 4500 parishioners, in Alaska that ratio is about one per 1,000.
Your voice and stature would play a pivotal role in investigating this problem in Alaska. Secular investigations tend to bring forth more survivors than church-run probes because victims are more likely to trust trained law enforcement professionals over Catholic officials. For this reason, the involvement of your office would greatly support transparency, crime discovery, and healing. This transparency is needed to not only help citizens and decision-makers understand what went wrong in the past, but also to help create new policies and practices that can prevent the scourge of sexual abuse well into the future.
The sad fact is that the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy is not just in the past. Last year, 38 clerics were arrested and this year, so far, we have tracked 14 more Catholic clergymen and staffers arrested for abusing in high schools, parishes, and at camps. We know that these arrests do not reveal the full scope of clergy abuse because of the nature of sexual violence – in the U.S., the average age of a survivor of clergy abuse coming forward for help is 52. This means many, many crimes do not get reported within an actionable window, that many survivors are still silent, and that their abusers could possibly still be abusing. This danger is exemplified in the recent case of Br. Paul West, a serial sexual abuser who, due to legal loopholes, was able to avoid punishment and public acknowledgement of his crimes until the FBI stepped in. This is an example of how the federal government can step into situations that have long felt hopeless and instead ensure that justice and prevention rule the day.
To us, these cases are a symptom of a more urgent problem: the inherent secrecy and desire to control information that is endemic to our institutions. Cover-ups like those that have been exposed in the Catholic Church are criminal actions that demand oversight. Reporting child sex crimes is hard enough, and it is made harder by the authority priests and bishops exert over their parishioners. Therefore, it is critical that the government steps in to bridge the gap.
We implore you to use your high stature, not only in Alaska but in the U.S. Senate, to help address and end this scandal that is affecting children and vulnerable adults nationwide. We have local SNAP leaders and two national Board members located in the Washington DC area and we would welcome an opportunity to meet with your staff in order to provide a more complete briefing on the problem and how we can work to end it.
Executive Director, SNAP