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Call Hearings on Abuse, Senator

by John Salveson, SNAP Philadelphia Spokesman
Friday, July 22, 2005

By now, you're probably familar with U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's comments about the Roman Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandal:

"Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."

Santorum's remarks reflect a profound misunderstanding of this scandal. Those of us who were abused by a trusted, often loved, clergy member could describe in exacting detail the first time we were violated - but few of us knew or cared whether the assailant was a liberal or a conservative.

We weren't considering the societal currents that led priests to force us into oral sex. We were terrified, violated and abandoned. And then, if we went to the church for help, we were lied to, berated and abandoned. Our church leaders chose, and mostly still choose, to protect the child rapists in their midst rather than helping the child victims.

Two reasons prompt this response to Santorum's comments. The first is a sincere desire to educate the senator and his colleagues about the truly important points of this issue. Toward that end, we invite him to attend a meeting of clergy sex-abuse survivors to learn about their experiences.

Second, we ask this powerful member of the Senate and staunch advocate for family values for help. We need him to assert his influence to hold church leaders accountable and to protect children.

For decades, thousands of children in America have been sexually abused by thousands of clergy of various denominations. Most of those who supervised these clergy knew they were abusing children but continued to move them from assignment to assignment to avoid scandal and liability. As a result, thousands more children were abused.

Despite all this, the federal government has made no attempt to understand how this could happen. I can't name a single member of the U.S. Senate or House who has taken any action on this issue. Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts were understandably upset by Santorum's slam at Boston's ethical culture. But they, too, have failed to take any action to hold the Catholic Church hierarchy accountable.

These are the requests that I and other members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests make of Santorum and his colleagues:

Convene Senate hearings to find out how members of the clergy raped thousands of American children for decades, yet avoided prosecution, through the protection of their superiors.

Direct the Justice Department to investigate the criminal behavior of our country's religious institutions related to the sexual abuse of children.

Further direct the Justice Department to explore the use of federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to prosecute those who conspired to leave children in harm's way and allowed sexual predators to have continued, unfettered access to fresh victims in new parishes and churches.

Survivors Network, a national advocacy and support organization, made similar requests to the Justice Department in November 2003. Santorum could initiate his work by finding out why no action was taken on our request.

Imagine what would happen in Congress if its members discovered that children were being systematically sexually abused in our public schools and that superintendents were moving the abusing teachers from school to school to shelter them. Imagine what would happen if such abuse and cover-up were uncovered at a national chain of day-care centers. Or the Little League.

Politicians would fall all over themselves to "do the right thing," expose the wrongdoing at public hearings and change the laws so that it never would happen again. But because the Roman Catholic Church is at the center of this scandal, this hasn't happened. Our elected officials in Washington have allowed the Catholic Church to operate above the law.

We are waiting for Santorum and his Washington colleagues to act. What will they do?

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