MS--Predator priest worked in MS; Victims urge outreach
A Catholic priest who worked in Mississippi is the subject of a recently-filed child sex abuse and cover up lawsuit in Texas. We call on Mississippi’s two bishops to aggressively reach out to others who may have been hurt by the child molesting cleric.
Mississippi’s two bishops face a choice. They can break with the long-standing, selfish and destructive practices of the Catholic hierarchy, and aggressively seek out others who were hurt by these this predators. Or they can do what they and their brother bishops have done for decades, and essentially be passive.
We urge them to act like compassionate shepherds, not a cold-hearted CEOs. We urge them to personally visit every church or school where these two convicted child molesters worked or lived. We urge them to beg any victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers to step forward, call police, expose wrongdoers, and deter wrongdoing. We urge them to print prominent and clear appeals in every parish bulletin and on their diocesan websites, prodding others who have been victimized to step forward. This is an inexpensive and non-controversial way to help those who were violated as kids but are still in pain as adults.
This isn't rocket science. It's common sense. It's what any responsible religious figure would do.
Over the past two decades, we in SNAP have seen, over and over again, that when public figures plead with victims to speak up, it can have a positive impact. These bishops aren't shy. They speak up often. Why won't they beg deeply wounded and still suffering child sex abuse victims to do the same?
In diocesan fundraising appeals, bishops put on the full court press. In clergy sex cases, however, they usually sit on the sidelines, even when guilt is clear and when his voice could help.
Have they forgotten what Pope Francis has promised: that Catholic officials will "do everything possible" to help those who were assaulted as kids by clerics?
If Mississippi’s bishops act responsibly, they may find other victims who need help. And if others with information or suspicions about these clergy sex crimes and cover ups step forward, maybe more criminal charges could be filed against church staffers who may have helped conceal Fr. Sutton’s crimes, destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, discredit whistleblowers or committed other offenses.
The victim in the pending suit now lives out of state. He is represented by Dallas attorney Tahira Khan Merritt (214 503 7300). The suit, filed in March in Tarrant County TX court, seeks actual and punitive damages of more than one million dollars.
Fr. Sutton died in 2004.
We also urge Mississippi’s bishops to make public every piece of paper in their files about Fr. Sutton. (Remember, all US bishop have repeatedly pledged to be “open” about clergy sex cases and their own national abuse policy mandates such openness.)
Again, Fr. Sutton is deceased. So what possible harm can come by this kind of outreach we are seeking? Such a compassionate approach – doing more to find and help other Fr. Sutton victims – might prevent one victim from committing suicide. And it would be reassuring to parishioners who want to see real reform from the Catholic hierarchy,.
Why should the Mississippi bishops take these steps about a priest who hasn’t been in the state for years?
Because it’s the right thing to do.
Because it may deter future cover ups.
Because every day a proven, admitted or credibly accused child molester’s name stays hidden, he or his colleagues can destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, discredit whistleblowers, fabricate alibis, and flee elsewhere.
Because every day information about a predator stays hidden, the chances increase that statute of limitations will expire and his or her victims will lose their opportunity to seek justice in court.
Because many victims are still suffering in shame, silence and self-blame, and will only find the courage to speak up, expose predators, protect kids and start healing IF they’re prodded to do so by authority figures.
Because even if victims stay silent, their pain is often relieved when their predators are exposed.
Because this is what will make the church, and our society, safer: when the identities and whereabouts of dangerous and potentially dangerous predators are revealed.
Because this is what Catholic officials have repeatedly pledged to do: be “open” about clergy sex cases.
And finally, because all that’s needed for evil to triumph, as Edmund Burke said, “is for good men to do nothing.”
A caring shepherd would, without prompting, aggressively reach out to others who may have been hurt by Fr. Sutton and other predator priests. But too often, church officials talk like caring shepherds but act like callous CEOs. We beg Mississippi’s bishops to use parish bulletins, church websites, and pulpit announcements to seek out others who may have been assaulted by Fr. Sutton and prod them to speak up, expose wrongdoing, and start healing.
Regardless of what Mississippi Catholic officials, do or don’t do, we in SNAP urge every single person who may have seen, suspected or suffered clergy crimes or cover ups – by Fr. Sutton or any cleric – to call police, protect others, deter cover ups and join us on the tough but crucial path to recovery, justice and prevention. Staying trapped in silence, shame, confusion and self-blame endangers kids, prolongs suffering and helps only those who commit and conceal heinous crimes against children.
Another SNAP statement about this case: http://www.snapnetwork.org/tx_bishop_accused_of_illegal_taping_of_victim_s_mom
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)