MO--A kind, veteran SNAP leader passes away
Mike Hunter has passed away. He started, and for almost a quarter century, led our SNAP support group in Kansas City. That’s a long time to devout yourself as a volunteer in a difficult cause. And he was a model leader, equally committed to all three parts of our mission: healing the wounded, protecting the vulnerable and exposing the truth.
(NOTE-On Oct. 11, from 12-4 p.m., there will be a picnic in Mike’s honor. Details: [email protected])
Mike was there in the early 1990s
--when we first leafleted at the Cathedral downtown and a parishioner pushed a survivor down the steps,
--when we leafleted outside a parish that had just voted to bring back an accused predator priest, Fr. Thomas J. Ward,
--when Abott Durocher became the first Kansas City victim to break his gag order and expose his perpetrator (Fr.
John Tulipana) on page one of the Kansas City Star,
--when survivors were so afraid and shame-filled, it was hard to persuade them to come to support group meetings and, often when they did, they would not talk or even give their names, and
--when very few believed a priest could hurt a child and even fewer believed that a bishop could conceal such horror.
And Mike was there more recently
--when we fought, unsuccessfully, to get the name of his predator, Bishop Joseph Hart, removed from the wing of a Wyoming children’s home. (Hart also abused Mike’s younger brother Kevin, and at least four other boys.)
--when we had to try and calm down angry parishioners who’d been deceived by KC church officials about a sexually troubled priest quietly sent to their parish, and
--when we begged KC’s bishop to warn police, prosecutors and parents about credibly accused child molesting KC clerics who were living or working elsewhere (like Fr. Thomas Cronin who’s in Nevada, Fr. Michael Brewer in Colorado and Fr. Mark A. Honhart in Pennsylvania).
We’ve come a long way. And the Kansas City diocese has carved out its place in the history of this continuing crisis.
There are many reasons that Kansas City is
--the only diocese whose bishop was convicted of endangering kids,
--one of only three US dioceses whose bishop has resigned for endangering kids,
--the only diocese in which dozens of victims successfully sued a bishop for breach of contract,
--one of the few dioceses that has produced a number of courageous whistleblowers, and
--has a disproportionally high percentage of predator priests who have been exposed.
The reasons include great lawyers, outstanding journalists, a solid prosecutors, and courageous victims.
But one key reason is Mike's extraordinary devotion to helping victims and exposing corruption.
And the key to Mike, I believe, was his huge heart. In fact, it's ironic that his heart eventually failed him because that same heart never failed anyone who ever sought his help. He was not “generous to a fault.” He was generous to dozens of faults. He gave even when he had very little to give. And that, of course, is the true measure of a person - his or her willingness to keep right on helping others when he or she is basically running on fumes.
No Catholic entity has ever fought victims as hard as the KC diocese has. (Back in 1993, we in SNAP singled out about eight dioceses that were re-victimized victims who reported abuse. KC was on that list.)
There are also many reasons for this too. But one key reason is that Mike made life tough on clerics who committed and concealed child sex crimes.
He sometimes did it directly – by organizing a news conference in front of the chancery to warn parents, parishioners and the public about yet another predator priest. Or leafleting the churches where dangerous men worked or neighborhood where they lived.
But most often, he did it indirectly and even unintentionally, by quietly and consistently listening to and supporting survivor after survivor after survivor, gradually helping them find the strength to disclose their suffering to spouses, parents, relatives, friends, and sometimes, eventually, to police, prosecutors and attorneys.
And he took grief for it. A lot of grief. Threatening letters. Hateful emails. Screaming phone calls. Angry remarks in public. Elementary school classmates who shunned him.
And he did it like he did everything else: with humility, patience, understanding and grace. I’ve known few people who more easily and genuinely shrugged off an insult or more quickly and repeatedly deflected praise than Mike.
Some of this hostility dissipated over the years, as more and more people in KC reluctantly faced facts and realized that Mike was right about how widespread clergy sex crimes and cover ups are.
Here’s one example of the attacks he quietly endured. And it’s one of the few times I saw Mike get mad.
We were trying to hand deliver a letter to Bishop Robert Finn after a sidewalk news conference. Rebecca Summers, the diocesan flak, met us just inside the door to the palatial office Finn bought and built for him and his underlings. She brusquely took our letter, told us to leave but couldn’t stop there.
She had known Mike and his large Catholic family for decades. She knew Mike’s mom, now deceased, who worked for years as a parish secretary.
“Your mother would be ashamed of you,” Summers growled at Mike as we left the chancery.
Mike held his tongue and kept walking. I’m embarrassed to say I was too shocked to say or do anything.
After the horrific Fr. Shawn Ratigan case emerged, Finn re-shuffled staff and job titles in a desperate move to pretend that reforms were happening. Summers left the chancery office to work for Christo Rey High School.
And Mike never mentioned her name again. (I had a much tougher time letting go of her viciousness than he did.)
But I’m letting it go now. Mike would never lecture me about forgiveness. But he’d want me to let it go. He’d want me to focus on the glass being half-full. I’ll do what Mike did, and keep standing with Michael and Robert and Theresa and David and Larry and our other brothers and sisters in this movement. And I’ll do it with deep, deep gratitude for having met and enjoyed and learned from a dear, dear man whose suffering, recovery, courage and grace moves, inspires and guides me and other survivors even now.