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).

Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans “lost” abuse records; SNAP wonders what it will take to make the faithful demand accountability

For Immediate Release: September 28, 2023

On Tuesday, a news article provided the public with additional information about “lost” reports of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by priests, cannot help but wonder how many other complaints are “missing,” and if any of those accused are still in ministry?

The Archdiocese claims that it has no records of reports of child sexual abuse against Deacon Virgil Maxey “VM” Wheeler III, from 2002. According to the article, the mother of Mac McCall told Archbishop Philip Hannan that year that Wheeler had tried to get Mac’s older brother into bed with him during a ski trip to Utah. Knowing that Wheeler wanted to become a Deacon, she also reported to the head of the Archdiocese’s diaconate program at the time, Jim Swiler.

Wheeler, who was ordained in 2018 and died earlier this year, was charged with the rape of Mac and arrested in March of 2021. The Deacon pleaded guilty in December of the following year to a lesser crime, and was sentenced to probation and sex offender registration.

It stretches credulity to believe that the Archdiocese has no record of either the report to Archbishop Hannan or Swiler. Because of this, Wheeler was later allowed to enter the diaconate program and was ordained by the current Archbishop, Gregory Aymond.  We also note that it took two reports to Archbishop Aymond about Wheeler, one in 2018 and the second in 2020, for this dangerous man to finally be removed from ministry.


SNAP Admires Mother Pursuing Justice For Her Son- Priest Evading Justice

(For Immediate Release September 28, 2023)
For anyone to say the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests is in the past, the Sac Bee article about Fr. Michael Kelly is evidence it is not. Kelly, despite his crimes and flight from justice, remains a priest in good standing.  He is a dangerous man.

He is not the only Catholic priest who is a fugitive. Fr. Alex Castillo fled an investigation in Oakland and is living someplace. The police say they know where he is.

Fr. George Alengaden fled his arraignment, accused of assaulting five different Catholic parishioners. There are fugitive priests that litter the list of the diocese of Sacramento. We can name dozens nationwide. These men flow like an underground river from place to place, finding victims and using their collars for access and money.

This article points to the ongoing power of Catholic bishops to control the actions of regional and federal law enforcers. How is it possible the FBI is still stiff-arming survivors? How is it possible a professional law enforcement agency, the district attorney’s office of Calaveras County, has lost grand jury reports, evidence, and any other information about this, or any, case?


San Antonio Catholic priest arrested; SNAP worried about his frequent assignment changes

For immediate release: September 27, 2023

On Tuesday in Texas, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar reported the arrest of a Catholic priest who had worked in numerous parishes in the San Antonio Archdiocese since 2017. The clergyman has been accused of raping a woman in her seventies on multiple occasions. SNAP is grateful for this prosecution, but believes that the cleric's frequent transfers are a major red flag.

Fr. George Mbugua Ndungu, also known as Fr. Wanjiru, has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. According to the Sheriff, an accusation of improper behavior by the priest was first brought to the attention of the Archdiocese by a church employee. In the subsequent Archdiocesan investigation, the elderly parishioner came forward.

While it is encouraging to see law enforcement pursue Catholic clerics who are accused of sexually assaulting adults, we take issue with Sheriff Salazar’s comment that “it is common for priests like Ndungu to be transferred to different churches every so often.” To us, frequent transfers, especially in the short time frame since 2017, are a red flag. We fear the frequent moves may signal other abuse and we encourage law enforcement to visit each of the parishes where Fr. Ndungu was assigned to urge other victims to come forward. Secular investigations in Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan showed that Church officials used expedited transfers of known abusers as a way to prevent scandal. In reality, these transfers enabled abusers to gain access to additional victims.


SNAP joins ECA and many others calling for Zero Tolerance in Rome this week

(For Immediate Release September 27, 2023) 

As survivors from across the world converge on Italy to push for widespread reform in how the Catholic hierarchy deals with abuse and cover-up, we are humbled and grateful to be a part of this potentially historic effort. SNAP Board President, Shaun Dougherty will be among those ‘Voices of Justice’ joining our allies at ECA (End Clergy Abuse) in the week-long events.

It is alarming to us that this papal synod will evidently not address the church's most serious ongoing crisis: child-molesting clergy and their enabling superiors. Every time Catholic officials convene without addressing this ongoing crisis explicitly, they embolden clergy who deny, minimize, neglect, and conceal this devastating scandal. Too frequently, church officials miss out on crucial chances to make the church and society safer and healthier. In doing so, they perpetuate the harmful myth that most of the wrongdoing has occurred in the past. This results in irresponsible and insensitive complacency, which places at risk innocent children and vulnerable adults.

Pope Francis said he wants an 'authentic' synod, not just a meeting 'to project a good image of ourselves.' As we see it, how can any church event, especially one of this magnitude, be truly 'authentic' without addressing the enormous elephant in the room: the sexual violation of the vulnerable and the cover-up of these violations by the church hierarchy?

 

 


Archdiocese of Baltimore talks bankruptcy; SNAP says the tactic benefits the Church, not survivors

For immediate release on September 22, 2023
 
In the wake of the passage of Maryland's Child Victims Act (CVA), which will go into effect on October 1, 2023, Archbishop William E. Lori is already saying that his Archdiocese may need to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  Considering that no lawsuits have been filed, we find it extremely troubling that the Archbishop is prematurely suggesting this legal maneuver. We believe that Catholic entities invoke the federal bankruptcy laws primarily to hide information, as well as to short-change for those who have suffered life-long damages because of unconscionable decisions to keep dangerous men in positions of authority. The bankruptcy tactic may benefit the Archdiocese, but it is disingenuous for the Archbishop to imply that he is doing this to be fair to survivors.
What has been lacking in Baltimore, as in other Catholic dioceses, is accountability and transparency. Even the extensive report published by the Maryland Attorney General's Office contained redacted names of perpetrators and those who covered up abuse. Although all were ultimately revealed by the media, we think it is important to note that the Archdiocese itself refused to reveal those names.
If Baltimore files for bankruptcy, those who brought lawsuits will become creditors, and the bankruptcy court will set a date by which any other claims must be filed. However, the bankruptcy court is unlikely to demand that the identities of any new abusers named in civil actions or in bankruptcy claims be publicized, and we know that we cannot count on the Archdiocese to take this step. Once again, there will be no truth or transparency.

 


Catholic Priest Arrested in Ventura County for Possession of Child Porn; SNAP Sees Alarming Trend

(For Immediate Release September 15, 2023) 

 

A Catholic priest working for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been arrested for possessing child pornography in Ventura County. We applaud law enforcement for their work in this case and for following through on a tip provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Child pornography is a crime with many victims, many of whom may never realize that they were exploited until later in life. We know this level of abuse has been on the rise in many faith denominations and includes many predators and a tragically long shelf life.

Fr.  Rodolfo Martinez-Guevara, 38, is a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, Martinez-Guevara is associated with several churches including Our Lady of Guadalupe in Oxnard. He has been charged with possession or control of child pornography and aggravated possession of child pornography, containing more than 600 images.  His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 15. He is in custody in lieu of a $750,000 bail bond.

In December 2021, Martinez-Guevara was ordained by Bishop Robert Barron. Several criminal cases involving Catholic clergymen have been investigated. It is an alarming trend that religious life appears to be a haven for this type of criminal behavior and a breeding ground for digital delusions involving the lives of young, innocent people. 

Now, Catholic officials in Los Angeles and Father Peter Artega, Provincial Superior of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, must promptly call on any victims, witnesses, or whistleblowers with relevant information to come forward and provide it to law enforcement. Father Rodolfo Martinez-Guevara's complete pre-seminary, academic, and employment history must also be made public and reviewed, with the goal of determining whether any children were victimized at any of his posts.

Studies have shown that 85% of those accused of related offenses involving child pornography also have been hands-on abusers. We are extremely concerned about the possibility of hands-on abuse in this case and beseech church officials, prosecutors, and the California Attorney General to do whatever it takes to identify the hands-on victims. 

The Catholic leadership frequently asserts that instances of sexual abuse inside the Church are confined to historical occurrences. However, incidents such as the one at hand serve as evidence to the contrary. According to internal monitoring conducted by SNAP, law enforcement agencies in a minimum of 30 states have taken legal action, such as arrests or initiation of criminal procedures, against priests who are now living and actively employed, and who have been implicated in cases of sexual abuse. This necessitates that both parishioners and the general public remain attentive and proactive in safeguarding youngsters within their respective communities.

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

(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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Investigation into child abuse in the Swiss Catholic Church published; SNAP finds the numbers seriously short

For immediate release: September 13, 2023

 

A yearlong investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland was released on Tuesday. While we are encouraged by the fact that the report highlighted the systematic cover-up of such crimes within the Church, we would have to agree with the accompanying acknowledgement that the findings represent “only the tip of the iceberg.”  

 The study, commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference and undertaken by the University of Zurich’s Historical Seminar, released a report of their findings yesterday. The investigation documented 1,002 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century, cases involving 510 accused and 921 victims. However, comparing the findings to those from other places around the world, those numbers are seriously undercounted, as we were happy to see the report acknowledged. 

 Switzerland has 3.3 million Catholics. Northern California has only 2.8 Million. Yet 1100 perpetrators have been found in NorCal, more than twice the number found in the Swiss study. 2,000 victims filed lawsuits and countless more that have come forward quietly, again more than double the Swiss number. It is also likely that the number of victims in NorCal does not reveal the full extent of the damage done by the criminal behavior of priests. Not all victims survive, and not all survivors come forward. If each California abuser had only 30 victims -- and some will have many more -- we likely have as many as 33,000 boys and girls in NorCal who suffered life-long damage because of the systemic cover-up of crimes by the Catholic Church.

 

 


Scandal engulfing Mobile Catholic high school expands; SNAP urges the faithful to demand accountability

UPDATE: The Lagniappe exposé is now available to read for free here. This op-ed from the media outlet may also be of interest.

For Immediate Release: September 12, 2023

McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Alabama recently made international news because of reports that the Archdiocese, as well as the staff at the school, ignored complaints about a Catholic priest who absconded to Italy with a recent McGill graduate. Sadly, Fr. Alex Crow was apparently not the only case to be mishandled by school officials and the Church.

On Sunday, Mobile media outlet Lagniappe posted a major exposé on child sex abuse at the Catholic high school entitled, “Victims say leaders ignored past and present abuse at McGill.” The outstanding piece was written by Rob Hobert, with contributions from Dale Liesch and Kyle Hamrick.

We are so grateful to brave survivors Clark Glenn, Sallie McPhearson, and Brian Pierre for their contributions to this comprehensive report. It is because of courageous victims like them that information about abuse in Catholic institutions has been exposed and is being addressed, albeit far too slowly. According to the Lagniappe, victims of abuse perpetrated by clergy at McGill say there is one constant — an administration and Archdiocese bent on covering for abusers and squelching criticism of the school.


New Orleans Archbishop: local Catholic institutions must contribute to clergy abuse claims; SNAP responds

For Immediate Release: September 11, 2023

On Friday, New Orleans’s Archbishop Gregory Aymond told the area’s Catholic churches, schools, and other ministries that they will have to shoulder some of the cost of resolving hundreds of clergy abuse claims. This contradicts promises the Archbishop made to those institutions when he declared bankruptcy in 2020.

We are not surprised by this turn-about. After a bad news week for the Archdiocese, we believe that Archbishop Aymond is trying to deflect local anger and disappointment away from Church officials and onto long-suffering survivors. Moreover, we have always believed that the arbitrary division of Catholic dioceses into separate corporate entities is pure fiction. The bishops are absolute monarchs, and if they decide to use the assets belonging to parishes, educational institutions, and other ministries to pay off diocesan debts, there is little, if anything, that can be done by the faithful to stop them.

We are grateful that Archbishop Aymond has put the lie to the corporate shell game that the Catholic Church plays when filing for bankruptcy. However, we are disturbed that the victims of clergy sex crimes, who have up until now suffered all the consequences of unconscionable decisions made by morally compromised hierarchs, may now also bear the brunt of the faithful’s ire as well.

Hopefully, parishioners will not be fooled again. Church officials – not victims -- made obscene choices that led to permanent harm for countless young lives. Many have been lost to suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness. That a portion of the remaining survivors have bravely come forward to seek just compensation for their injuries should not subject them to the wrath of the faithful. That anger should be directed at those who caused the harm, and those who covered up for them, enabling the perpetrator to do even more damage to innocent Catholic boys and girls.

Unless those who endangered children are held accountable for their actions, nothing will change, and the boys and girls who today are a part of Catholic churches and schools will continue to be at grave risk of harm.

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

(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)


Former New Orleans Priest Indicted by Grand Jury; SNAP Responds

(For Immediate Release September 7, 2023) 
 

We are grateful to the New Orleans jurors who delivered an indictment against retired Catholic priest Lawrence Hecker on charges of rape, kidnapping, crimes against nature, and theftFr. Hecker has evaded punishment for his crimes for more than seven decades. District Attorney Jason Williams is the only prosecutor to pursue this prolific perpetrator. We applaud him for his efforts, and we hope that they will result in a successful prosecution of Fr. Hecker. Children are always safer when their abusers are behind bars.

We also hope that all of the survivors of Fr. Hecker’s crimes feel a sense of justice and relief that law enforcement is finally taking action. Three New Orleans Archbishops (Hannan, Schulte, and Hughes) shielded this clergyman from the authorities. We say shame on them!

Last month, Fr. Hecker admitted on camera that between 1966 and 1979 he participated in "overtly sexual acts" with two boys and illicit behavior with other children. Today’s indictment said that on or about Jan. 1, 1975, through Dec. 31, 1976, the cleric is raped, kidnapped, and stole from one unidentified victim.

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

 

 

 


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