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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Letters

Letter to New Orleans Archbishop Hughes


Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests
P.O. Box 6416,
Chicago, Illinois 60680-6416

November 19, 2004

Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes
Archdiocese of New Orleans
7887 Walmsley Avenue
New Orleans, LA 60125-3496

Dear Archbishop Hughes:

We are certain that the sexual abuse allegation against Fr. Pat Sanders is unfortunate and troubling to everyone involved.

No clear determination has been made about his innocence or guilt. Still, we believe you made the right decision to suspend him, pending the outcome. Now, you must go further. You must take affirmative steps to reach out to any other possible victims and move expeditiously to resolve what doubt remains.

The first step in that process, we feel, is to stop parishioners from publicly rallying around Sanders and proclaiming his supposed innocence. Their love for Fr. Sanders is understandable, and their devotion to him is admirable. However, those sentiments should be expressed quietly and privately.

In that parish, others were or are being sexually assaulted. When Catholics visibly and vigorously profess Fr. Sanders' innocence, they are unintentionally making it harder for current and past victims to come forward, report the crimes, protect others, and get the help they so desperately need and deserve.

Allow us to be more specific:

Our fear, Archbishop Hughes, is that somewhere in Sanders' parish is a twelve-year-old boy who is being molested right now by his coach. That coach has told the frightened young victim, "If you tell, no one will believe you."

Or there is a nine-year-old girl who is being raped by her stepfather. The perpetrator tells her the same thing: "If you speak up, everyone will back me and think you're lying."

These kids come to Mass on Sunday and watch good Catholics talk about Sanders' alleged innocence. They see their parents' friends and their neighbors obviously, almost reflexively, siding with an accused child molester.

And then, tragically, they decide their molester is right: no one will believe them. They remain silent, keep suffering, and unintentionally put other innocent kids at risk too.

Archbishop, please don't let this happen.

So for the sake of justice, healing and prevention, we ask that you take the following steps:

First, immediately contact staff and lay leaders at Sanders' parish. Insist that they support Sanders privately, not publicly. Encourage them to keep offering him their love. But make sure they do so in a truly Christian manner, in a way that makes the parish a safer place for all.

Second, please give us an opportunity to speak directly with parishioners, so we might help them understand how to best support their pastor AND foster a welcoming climate for any molestation victims to come forward.

Third, please use your resources to educate your flock about the remote chances of a false allegation.

Tell them about the findings of veteran church defense lawyer Patrick Schlitz of Minnesota, who told the New York Times (Aug 2002) that he's represented more than 500 accused priests. Less than ten of those, he says, were "falsely accused." You have a duty to remind New Orleans Catholics that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse allegations against clergymen are indeed true.

Finally, in the interest of resolving this sad and difficult situation more quickly, we urge you to go to any other place where Sanders may have worked (parishes. schools, even secular organizations or businesses) and publicly urge anyone who experienced, witnessed or suspected abuse to come forward. Specifically, we ask that you use verbal announcements, the archdiocesan web site, church bulletins, your weekly newspaper and meetings of archdiocesan employees and volunteers to stress that each New Orleans catholic has two duties:

- A Christian duty to seek out former parishioners, church staff, and parochial school students, and gently but specifically ask them if they were hurt by an abusive cleric. (This is especially true for Catholics who belong to a parish at which a known or suspected priest worked.)

- A civic duty to report any suspected crimes, no matter how old, to the appropriate criminal authorities.

It's especially incumbent on you to take such steps. Because of your involvement in the horrific Boston archdiocese sex scandal, you have a particular responsibility to lead the way toward more effective prevention. Because of your experience dealing with sexual abuse by clergy and cover up by church officials, you more than any bishop should understand that the failed, passive, bare minimum policies of the past, merely sitting in your office waiting for wounded victims to call, are at best insufficient and at worst, irresponsible.

We hope to hear from you soon.

Lyn Hayward
SNAP Spokesperson
David Brien
SNAP Co-Leader Louisiana
Barbara Blaine
SNAP President
312 399 4747
David Clohessy
SNAP National Director
314 566 9790

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
PO Box 6416
Chicago, IL 60680-6416

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests