The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Letter to Detroit Archbishop Vigneron
May 4, 2009
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron
Dear Archbishop Vigneron:
We represent men and women who were sexually victimized by clergy and are leaders of a support group called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). We are writing because in your role as Detroit's new archbishop, you have an opportunity to start anew with clergy sex abuse cases, and show by your actions that you take seriously protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded.
We are also writing because we are troubled by the reckless delay and inexcusable secrecy surrounding recently disclosed allegations against a long time Detroit priest.
As you know, on April 24, Fr. Kenneth Kaucheck left his post at St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak and St. James Parish in Ferndale. He was put on administrative leave because of credible allegations that he had molested a girl.
Archdiocesan officials, however, admit that they first received the accusation in January. This delay, of at least three months, enables predators to intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, destroy evidence, fabricate alibis, and escape justice. Church staff also refused to disclose where the alleged crimes took place and did minimal outreach to others who may have been hurt.
Both actions, we believe violates the US bishops conference sex abuse policy. The delay violates the policy provisions that relate to putting the safety of kids first. The secrecy violates the policy provisions which promise 'openness and transparency' in child sex cases.
Surely you agree that it doesn't take three months
We are urging you, as Detroit's new archbishop, to take three steps to 'turn over a new leaf' and handle child sex allegations in a more responsible and proactive manner.
First, we urge you to physically go to each church where Kaucheck worked, and beg victims and witnesses to contact police and other independent sources of help. That's what Jesus would do and that's the best way to make sure that child molesting clergy are jailed and that innocent youngsters are protected.
Second, we urge you investigate who in the archdiocese is responsible for this secrecy and delays surrounding the allegations against Kaucheck, and discipline those individuals. Ignoring wrong-doing encourages wrong-doing. In only a handful of situations have church employees faced any consequences for ignoring or concealing suspicions or knowledge of child sex crimes. Unless that changes, Archbishop, such hurtful actions will be repeated and more vulnerable kids will be abused. You must show, by your deeds, that this kind of inexcusable recklessness will not be tolerated on your watch.
Third, we urge you to disclose and permanently list the names of all pedophile priests predator priests - proven, admitted and credibly accused - on the archdiocesan website, so that their neighbors and employers are notified. (Most predator priests are suspended, but not defrocked, and live among unsuspecting neighbors, thus presenting an on-going public safety risk.)
SNAP believes such simple and inexpensive sharing of valuable information with the public is the absolute bare minimum Catholic bishops should provide so that future child sex crimes can be prevented. (As you know, roughly a dozen bishops across the US have taken steps like these.)
There are two simple, compelling reasons why posting such a list is crucial: prevention and healing.
Bishops tell us they no longer shuffle molesters from parish to parish. But whats fundamentally different if they now shuffle molesters out of the church world and into the secular world? Many who abused youngsters as clerics are still doing so today, as day care providers, teachers, coaches, tutors, or others positions of authority over kids.
Merely removing a mans job title or assignment does not cure him of a deeply-rooted sexual compulsion to touch or rape children.
The least a bishop can do, once he determines a cleric has molested or likely molested kids, is to warn others. This might be the single most effective step a bishop can take to
prevent civil lawsuits against his diocese. Without a doubt, it is the single most effective step a bishop can take toward safeguarding other kids.
Its also critical because most survivors never even consider filing criminal charges. And those who do face antiquated laws that prevent the prosecution of most sex offenders. Because of these outdated and dangerous time limits, called statutes of limitations, most molesters never face exposure or consequences. So they keep on hurting kids.
But what about the possibility of a false accusation? Three points need to be considered.
First, history has clearly shown that bishops move very slowly and cautiously in the face of abuse allegations. And common sense tells us its very hard for a bishop to yank a former seminary classmate, a long time fishing buddy, or a popular pastor of a thriving parish in the face from his assignment, especially on the word of one individual, a stranger, alleging abuse years ago.
For decades, church leaders have erred on the side of protecting priests. Its unlikely that theyll suddenly reverse decades of well entrenched behavior and impulsively or flippantly remove a brother priest based on little or no evidence. (Indeed, with an aging priesthood, dwindling seminary enrollment, and a still growing Catholic population, the pressures to keep priests in ministry are immense and only getting more so.)
So when a priest is removed by a bishop, its often only because of overwhelming evidence, multiple accusers, and sometimes even an admission of guilt.
Second, the churchs leading defense attorney, who has handled more than 500 cases of accused clergy, has publicly admitted that less than ten of those proved to be false. There simply are very few cases which are not genuine.
Third, to be falsely accused must be a horrific thing. But theres something worse: actually being sexually abused as a child by a trusted, revered religious leader. One step worse, of course, is being abused and then being disbelieved. So if one must err, doesnt Christ himself tell us to err on the side of the most vulnerable children themselves?
If, however, that parent reads in the diocesan newspaper that their long time family friend, Fr. Smith, has been removed due to abuse allegations, healing can begin. That parent will likely ask their child, probably for the first time ever, if anything happened on those outings with Fr. Smith years ago. Even if the child doesnt disclose their victimization, he or she will almost always feel better knowing that a dangerous mans criminal behavior has been publicly acknowledged.
Truth-telling is also important because when survivors feel helpless, we self-destruct. In March, 2003, abuse victim Christopher Klump of St. Louis took his own life after learning that the statute of limitations prevented him from filing criminal charges against his perpetrator.
On the other hand, when we are vindicated, when the truth is revealed and our abusers are exposed, we can truly begin to heal.
The bottom line is that some bishops and their defenders argue that to name names is mean-spirited and unforgiving. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can (and should) forgive our perpetrators. We can (and should) feel compassion and sympathy for them. We can not, however, gamble with one more innocent life.
For the safety of our children, we must arm ourselves and others with the truth. The truth, as so many of us realize, will indeed set us free.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.