Media Statements

We are SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others).

Top Wage Earner for the Vatican Expelled from Jesuits is still a Priest; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release July 25, 2023) 

The Jesuits on July 24 said that a famous artist priest is definitively expelled from the religious order for sexually, spiritually and psychologically abusing women, and lamented they couldn't prosecute him more vigorously under the Vatican's internal procedures.

The priest and artist Father Marko Rupnik, accused of the physical and psychological abuse of numerous religious sisters, was dismissed from the Jesuits last month according to the religious order. In a June 15 statement from the Society of Jesus, Rupnik was expelled due to his "stubborn refusal to observe the vow of obedience."

In response to complaints that Rupnik is still a priest, Father Johan Verschueren, Communication Officer Jesuit Curia (Rome) stated that the Vatican's current laws "precluded an investigation that could have led to a harsher penalty," according to the AP. In June 2021, the Vatican updated its regulations to make clergy abuse of adults illegal, but it did not retrospectively apply those laws to Rupnik's alleged abuse between the years of 1985 and 2018, which the Jesuits' investigation team had determined to be credible.

It is clear to us that the Vatican, specifically the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, never considered time-barred victims when updating the laws for abuse against adults. It is not too late to right the wrong. 

Another question raised by the Jesuits' expulsion of their "top" earner. They acknowledge that he is being rightly accused of behaving in a predatory manner, but their decision to fire him comes only after they grew tired of Rupnik’s "stubborn refusal" to submit? Ultimately, that was enough to send him on his way without any real punishment. In our view, this speaks volumes about what the church teaches about truth. The reality is this, the truth can be altered with a price.  

The most pressing issue has to do with Father Rupnik's priesthood. Yes, he still is one. A priest's dismissal from a religious order does not remove the collar. Rupnik has been a major source of income for the church, and apparently still has friends among the powerful, so the rules are not really rules for him. It is no secret that great wage earners are revered by the Vatican and thus receive additional protection, Rupnik is no exception.

We believe that being expelled from a priestly community does not prevent an alleged abuser from hurting others in the future. The nine religious women from the Loyola Community in Ljubljana, Slovenia, who came forth bravely to relate their testimonies will receive no justice from Rupnik's current blacklisting. Nuns: don't they deserve justice?

We continue to applaud and support the brave women who have pressed on to hold Rupnik accountable and the Society of Jesus responsible for enabling him.  As always, anyone who may suspect, witnessed, or learn of abuse by Fr. Rupnik to immediately report their information authorities. 

Contact: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim 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 SNAPnetwork.org)

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Diocese of Richmond Priest Facing Allegations

(For Immediate Release July 18, 2023)

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond posted on its website earlier this month that retired priest Fr. Walter Lewis was accused of sexually abusing a child during his time at  St. Anne Catholic Church in Bristol. The clergyman denied the accusation, but the Diocese said that it had been reported to law enforcement.

The accusation against Fr. Lewis stems from an incident that was said to have occurred in the 1980s. The priest was ordained in 1979. He worked as a parochial vicar or pastor at several parishes, including Holy Spirit, Virginia Beach; St. Andrew, Roanoke; St. Anne, Bristol; St. Mary, Richmond; St. Bridget, Richmond; St. John Neumann, Powhatan; and Good Samaritan, Amelia. Fr. Lewis retired in May of 2023.

We know that it can take survivors decades to come forward. Delayed disclosure is quite common, and the average age of reporting is 52. Those victimized by Catholic clergy, brothers, sisters, employees and volunteers during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s will likely continue to come forward for years to come.

That said, we applaud this survivor for coming forward, and we recognize how difficult it must have been to tell their story. SNAP is committed to standing by all victims of sexual abuse by trusted authority figures. This survivor's bravery will help to keep other children safe.

However, we also know that those who prey on boys and girls rarely have just one victim. We feel that Catholic officials have a moral obligation to do more than just post a notification letter on their website. If the Diocese was truly sincere about protection, transparency, and cooperation, Bishop Barry C. Knestout would take the initiative and personally go to every parish where Fr. Lewis worked to beg anyone who may have experienced, witnessed, or suspected abuse by the cleric to report immediately to the police. 

We also think in the interest of child protection and transparency, the Diocese should expand their list of accused to include brothers, sisters, employees and volunteers. It should also provide photos and the dates for parish assignments, as well general information about each accusation, such as the age and sex of the victim, when the accusation was received, where the abuse was said to have occurred, and what was done in response.

In the meantime, we urge anyone who experienced abuse in the Diocese of Richmond to speak up. Tell trusted family and friends, a trained therapist, law enforcement, or support groups like ours. You do not need to suffer alone and in silence! There are people who will believe and support you.

Contact: Becky Ianni, SNAP Virginia State Leader, (703-801-6044, [email protected]) Tom Schlenz, SNAP Leader, Shenandoah, (540-532-6347, [email protected]) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578)

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Diocese of Ogdensburg announces bankruptcy; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release July 17, 2023) 

The Diocese of Ogdensburg has submitted a Chapter 11 reorganization petition following the filing of more than 100 sexual abuse lawsuits. Bishop Terry LaValley stated in a letter that the reorganization is in reaction to the 138 lawsuits brought against the diocese under the Child Victims Act of New York state.

In a move that, in our opinion, tries to prevent the public from realizing the scope of clergy sexual abuse that has occurred inside its borders. Ogdensburg makes the 6th out of the 8 Catholic Dioceses in New York to do so. 

The truth about how the abuse was tolerated, by whom, and where, as well as all other real evidence, are equally as vital to survivors and their families as reparations are; without that truth, a safe Catholic diocese in Ogdensburg will not emerge, and these crimes will be replayed.

We are calling on our state and federal lawmakers to examine these bankruptcy manipulations for possible fraud. The government should see through the charades and force the Catholic dioceses declaring indigency to confront these cases one at a time so that juries can hear the evidence and the testimony of victims and decide the harm and award just damages.

Contact: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim 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 SNAPnetwork.org)

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Two Illinois church groups post names of 35 child predators

(For Immediate Release July 12, 2023)

 

Two Illinois Catholic entities list new child molesting clerics

 

SNAP: “It’s the church’s 1st positive step since AG abuse report

 

Two Joliet area Catholic institutions have quietly expanded their public lists of ‘credibly accused’ child molesting clerics, a month after Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the state’s bishops were largely ignoring or downplaying 149 such priests and brothers.

 

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/ag-report-finds-nearly-350-catholic-clergy-accused-of-sex-abuse-not-publicly-listed-by-illinois-dioceses/ar-AA1bAbRq

 

Two weeks ago, the Joliet diocese quietly added the names of 12 more alleged predators to its website, all of whom belong or belonged to religious orders. 

 

https://protect.diojoliet.org/documents/d/child-protection/clergy_with_substantiated_allegations

 

 


Retired priest in Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee facing allegations; SNAP responds

(For Immediate Release July 10, 2023) 

An allegation of abuse has been levied against a retired priest in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. According to a news report- Around 2011, the family of a Pensacola middle-school student, who was struggling with bullying, moved the boy to a new school hoping the change would help.

The boy’s mother enrolled him at St. John the Evangelist, a private Catholic school in Pensacola. She shared with the pastor there, then prominent Pensacola priest Monsignor James Flaherty, how much her son had suffered and how he needed support.

It can take survivors a long time to come forward and report abuse, and we believe this claim should be taken seriously and investigated fully. We stand in applause for the brave victim and his family for stepping forward. We want them to know we believe in them and support them in any way possible.

The details of Flaherty befriending the victim and requesting help with the church property are indicators of grooming a victim. Additionally, we always raise the caution flag when we see multiple transfers in clerics’ work history. To that point, we call on church officials in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee to conduct immediate outreach in the previous parishes and schools in which Flaherty worked and hope that this news will encourage other survivors of sexual violence to come forward to seek healing and justice.

Finally, regardless of what actions the Church has taken, we know that the best way for survivors to heal and protect other children is to make their own reports to law enforcement. We hope that this story will encourage any still-suffering survivors in the area to talk with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist so that they can start healing and find ways to break their silence.

CONTACT:  Mike McDonnell, Interim Executive Director ([email protected] 267-261-0578) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386 [email protected])

 (SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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SNAP Applauds Brave Victims In Grand Jury Probe Jehovah Witnesses - Pennsylvania

(For Immediate Release July 7, 2023) 

(For Immediate Release July 7, 2023) 

A Pennsylvania grand jury investigating child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses community has charged another five people with raping or molesting children as young as 4, the latest developments in an ongoing probe that has identified 14 suspects.

In the allegations that were made public on Friday, Attorney General Michelle Henry said that the men had groomed or obtained access to the kids using the church, sometimes by inviting them into the kid's family's house. One woman said that between the ages of 7 and 12, a church member who was 18 at the time of the assaults raped her at least 50 times. Related charges have appeared against other perpetrators.

We strongly suspect that the named defendants have other victims, some of whom the statute of limitations likely expired. Just think about how many victims could have been spared if the courtroom doors were open longer for criminal and civil claims.

 

                                                                                


Victim-Survivors Dealt Yet Another Setback By Pennsylvania Politics; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release July 6, 2023) 

Justice for victims of child sex abuse in Pennsylvania remains elusive. Budget agreements are being worked through in the state’s capital, but none mentions window legislation for survivors.  A constitutional amendment, as well as a stand-alone bill, remain in the senate chambers after both HB1 and HB2 passed overwhelmingly this spring in the State House of Representatives.

Sadly, it appears that victim-survivors will have to wait until the Senate returns in September to see if either of the bills makes it onto the voting calendar. As far as we can tell, the constitutional amendment will not make an administrative deadline for it to appear on the November ballot for voters.

We’re also disappointed in Governor Shapiro who made ‘justice for survivors’ part of his campaign platform and promised to ‘get this done.’ In our opinion, providing a pathway to justice for survivors of childhood sexual assault in Pennsylvania should have been a larger priority this budget season.

Survivors have long held the liability and it is time to shift the cost of abuse back to where it belongs: at the feet of the abuser and those who enabled them. Each day that the state senate fails to act, predators remain hidden, and children remain at risk. Survivors deserve the right to the legal process for discovery and justice.

Therefore, passing either HB1 or HB2 would be the single most effective action lawmakers could take to safeguard children and give time-barred victims their day in court.  Language in both of these measures would enable anyone who had been abused by a predator at any time to use the civil courts to alert the public and parents about those who molest children and try to hide their crimes. This is a fast, simple, and reasonable technique to identify harmful predators, stop cover-ups, and stop repeat offenders.

As legislators plan their summer break, we hope they remember victim-survivors who are hoping for justice and to expose the name, residence, workplace, and history of abusive men and women who are walking the streets of vacation destinations.

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)

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New Mexico U.S. Attorney Indicts Former Catholic Priest; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release June 30, 2023)

A Roman Catholic priest who had been dismissed from his parish church in Santa Fe last year was arrested Thursday on federal charges of sexually assaulting a young boy in 2012.

Fr. Daniel M. Balizan, 61, ordained in 1989, a former pastor at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Community in Santa Fe, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury for a reported case of child sexual abuse in August and September of 2012, according to the indictment. Court documents state that he allegedly used text messages to coerce and entice a minor victim, identified as John Doe in court documents, to engage in sexual activity with him. It is common knowledge that methods of grooming victims encompass a wide variety of tactics that include virtual communication apps, social media, and instant messaging, Balizan also used Facebook.

We stand with the brave victim who came forward regarding the alleged abuse he suffered as a young teenager. We hope this news encourages anyone who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted person to come forward to report it to authorities, it is never too late.

We are grateful to the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office for investigating this case. This is the second in which the US Attorney's Office in New Mexico has indicted a priest or former priest on accusations of sexual abuse of a minor since 2017. A federal jury in Santa Fe found former St. Bernadette parish priest Arthur Perrault guilty on seven charges of aggravated abuse or assault on a 10-year-old boy dating back to the 1990s in April 2019.

 


Knoxville Bishop Resigns or Retires; SNAP responds

Knoxville Bishop Stika, according to reports, is stepping down, after the diocese has been besieged by scandals, primarily of his own creating, for more than a year. We hope that this departure will result in genuine reform in this area, rather than just a people change.

For the past year plus, Stika has faced scandal after scandal, from his involvement in lawsuits, to his alleged victim intimidation, to priests with grave concerns of Stika’s leadership. We can’t help but wonder if there was anything sincere accomplished. The diocese is currently without an episcopal nominee. His bad performance as a church leader, in our opinion, caused or perpetuated an avalanche in the Diocese of Knoxville. Sitka has insulted parishioners' wisdom.

We hope that when the administrator for Knoxville is chosen, he will be a prelate who learns from Bishop Stika. That is, we hope that this new bishop will do the opposite of his predecessor at every chance, will be truly transparent rather than secretive, and will embrace the truth rather than try to stifle it. Knoxville parishioners deserve no less.

 

 


SNAP Applauds NOLA District Attorney Investigating Further Into Notorious Abusive Priest

(For Immediate Release June 16, 2023) 

 New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams announced yesterday that his office is investigating Catholic priest Lawrence Hecker. We are grateful to DA Williams for his efforts and hope that they will result in a successful prosecution of Fr. Hecker. Children are always safer when their abusers are behind bars.

Fr. Hecker is on the list of those clergy in the Archdiocese of New Orleans who are alive, who have been accused of sexually abusing a child, and who have been removed from ministry on the basis of those "credible" accusations. The list, released in November of 2018, was the first time that the priest was publicly acknowledged by his supervisors as a perpetrator. He is also on the Diocese of Baton Rouge's list.

The Archdiocesan website claimed that the first accusation against Fr. Hecker was received by it in 1996, and went on to say that the cleric was accused of assaulting children in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sadly, yet consistent with the Catholic bishops’ playbook for dealing with child sexual abuse, Fr. Hecker remained on the job until 2002. 

 


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