SNAP Applauds New Cheverus Fundraising Effort but Urges Fundraisers to Focus on Prevention First
Leaders from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are grateful that a handful of Catholic school alumni are raising money to address the issue of clergy abuse. We hope other classes will follow their lead. But while they appreciate and honor this interest in helping victims, SNAP strongly urge them to instead put the money they are raising towards preventing future cases of sexual abuse.
“Helping survivors is good. But safeguarding children is better,” said Zach Hiner, Executive Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We cannot assume that every school staffer who committed or concealed child sexual abuse has been exposed and punished, and until that has been done – at Cheverus High and every Catholic institution in Maine - prevention must be the top priority.”
SNAP is recommending that the Cheverus Alumni fundraisers work to support secular reforms that can better enable victims to protect children and end cover-ups by exposing in court those who commit and conceal child sex crimes.
“Protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded can both happen through a civil window like other states are adopting,” he says.
SNAP believes that the archaic and abuser-friendly statute of limitations laws are a major reason why abusive priests and complicit church supervisors are still under the radar, in positions of authority, and potentially keeping children at risk. By reforming the statute of limitations and opening civil windows, victims and survivors can help get important information in the hands of parents and the public so they are more knowledgeable about local abusers and the institutions that protected them, making today’s children safer.
Cheverus alumnus, Michael Sweatt, ‘76, who was sexually abused by former teacher/coach Charles Malia when he was a student there, has written a strong letter to the three Cheverus alumni who are leading the fundraising drive. Sweatt, too, calls for statute of limitations reform. A copy of the letter is below:
Here’s Michael Sweatt’s letter. The letter sent to members of the Class of 1979 by the alumni committee follows.
September 23, 2019
Dear Cheverus Alums, John Marr, Peter O’Donnell and Christopher O’Neil,
One of your classmates forwarded me the letter you sent to your fellow ‘79 Cheverus classmates in which you propose a fundraising effort, in part, to support counseling services for victims of the multiple predators at Cheverus High School, presumably to include former teacher/coaches, Charles Malia’s and James Talbot’s victims.
I am writing to you today as a victim/survivor of sexual abuse at Cheverus High School, class of ‘76 and as the father of my son, class of 2001 and also, brother of my deceased older brother Bob, abused by Malia at Cathedral Junior High School, before Malia was hired at Cheverus.
I admit that it took me several days to get beyond the first paragraph of your letter, not because I’m a slow reader, but because of a concern and real fear of potentially reading in a Bill Nemitz column about what I perceive as misdirected good intentions and the potential of further harm to Malia’s and Talbot’s victims.
While your efforts are noteworthy, I will be so bold as to make some comments and recommendations from the view of this victim/survivor.
As a victim, I can tell you that the most important support for me, and that which is one of the most important drivers for many victims, is to make certain that I/we do everything within our power to make sure that others do not experience the pain, the suffering, the ostracism, the marginalization that I/we have felt.
We do this by speaking out, calling upon bishops and leaders of institutions to tell the truth, educating, working on legislation to strengthen child protection laws and standing in front of neighborhoods where priest-predators are hiding, etc.
I want you to know that every time you or someone else extols the virtues of Cheverus, the Jesuits and/or your pride in Cheverus, I cringe.
I feel robbed of the camaraderie that you feel. I again feel violated by Malia. I feel shunned by you, the Jesuits, the faculty and staff.
Cheverus and its alumni have been, collectively, my second worse nightmare, second only to the actual abuse.
Do you know that Cheverus President Robert Pecoraro, S.J. refuses to meet with me? Will you stand with me now by objecting out loud to Pecoraro’s mistreatment of me?
What about this? Rev. Robert Levens, S.J. serves on the Cheverus Board of Trustees in total disregard of the fact that in 2003, Jesuit Provincial Levens instructed his lawyers to use whatever legal means necessary to prevent Prosecutors from obtaining letters and other documents pertaining to serial child molester and Jesuit priest, Fr. James Talbot, S.J. Levens was trying to keep Talbot out of jail.
If you are sincere in wanting to help, here are some very real and tangible ways to do so.
- Encourage every one of your classmates who was victimized at Cheverus to step forward and report their abuse to police or other civil authorities.
- Encourage each person to seek therapy (or help from a hotline or helpline) and send counseling invoices to Cheverus officials who have previously agreed to pay for counseling services.
- I can assure you, though, that the most productive, the most beneficial and the most long lasting and effective use of your funds will be to support ground-breaking legislation in Maine, legislation intended to open the courtroom doors for victims who are currently barred by the statute of limitations from seeking justice for themselves and their families in the judicial system.
By doing so, and if the legislation is enacted, you will be helping, not only victims at Cheverus, but victims throughout Maine, by providing them with the opportunity to confront their abusers, and the institutions that allowed the abuse to occur, in a court of law.
Announcement from John Marr, Pete O’Donnell & Chris O’Neil
Greetings Cheverus 1979 alumni -
We have been working for several months on an important and overdue project that begins with the Cheverus Class of 1979. We will roll it out publicly at our October 5 reunion. In anticipation of that date, this note is to inform you about the project, and to ask for your support.
The Cheverus Class of 1979 Special Assistance Fund
We attended Cheverus at a time when several abusers were employed by the school. Over the last three decades we have watched the chapters of this tragic story unfold, and it has pained us on so many levels. First, our hearts break for the victims, our Cheverus brothers. Second, the scandal has tested our faith in institutions: Cheverus, the Jesuits and the Church. Third, we deeply value our Cheverus experience, so we wince whenever a new media event rehashes old stories about our alma mater in that dreadful context.
We are Cheverus, and we refuse to let those events cast us in a negative light. Moreover, we feel compelled to act as Cheverians - Men for Others - and we ask you to join us.
History tells us that some victims never get help for the terrible ongoing effects. Often such help begins with professional counseling services. As Cheverus brothers we support the abuse victims who have come forward and those who have not. In either case, many victims - often because of cost - have gone without the support so crucial for them to cope, recover and thrive.
So we have established a dedicated fund in the name of our class. The Fund is established to provide and/or supplement mental, psychological and emotional support services - including counseling and therapy sessions - for victims of abuse. The Fund also supports educational programs for Cheverus students, faculty and staff that raise awareness and provide training to ensure the safety and protection of students. Finally, the Fund may be used to conduct inquiries or studies into the issues related to abuse, and the scope and types of additional support services and programmatic initiatives that can facilitate the healing process.
The Class of 1979 will be the cornerstone donors. We think (and let’s certainly hope) that $50,000 will be adequate for the Fund to succeed, so this will not be a recurring fundraiser.
Fortunately we have identified an anonymous donor who will generously match contributions up to $25,000, half of the total fund! Our immediate goal is $10,000 in pledges from ’79 alumni, and we want to announce at the October 5 reunion that we’ve reached or exceeded it, before we begin soliciting contributions from others.
Please note that we have consulted with the Cheverus administration from the start, and it supports this grassroots alumni effort. We had been concerned initially about it harming the school’s conventional fundraising programs, but the school told us not to worry. All logistical details are covered.
We will be contacting you to confirm your support for this important project.
If you are ready to pledge a contribution to the 1979 Fund by September 30, please reply to any or all three of us via this email.
Hope to see you on October 5.
John Marr, ‘79
Pete O’Donnell, ‘79
Chris P. O’Neil, ‘79
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)