UPDATED: SNAP press event Monday, April 22, 2024, at 10:00 am. in San Juan, Texas

SNAP & CALL TO ACTION stand with RGV survivors of clergy sexual abuse

The two groups urge all victims to come forward and find help

Remember: law enforcement reports can help ensure what you endured never happens to another

Statement from Brownsville Diocese survivor will also be shared at press event

Victim encourages others to share their truth: “We all deserve support”

WHAT: Holding signs at a sidewalk news conference, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and a Catholic advocacy group, Call to Action, will read a statement by a survivor of clergy sexual abuse in the RGV. The groups will also provide context as to why victims should be believed, and why they often delay coming forward.

WHEN: Monday, April 22, 2024, at 10:00 am.

WHERE: Outside the Basilica de San Juan, 400 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd, San Juan, Texas. We will be meeting on the public sidewalk on the west side of the Basilica. Enter the address 700 Oblate Street for GPS directions.

WHO: 3-5 victims, advocates and supporters, including David Saavedra, a McAllen counselor and advocate with Call to Action, and Patti Koo, SNAP San Antonio leader and survivor of adult abuse in McAllen, Texas, by a clergy/counselor.

WHY: We are gathering to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to educate the public on the importance of believing and supporting survivors, especially in a culture that often prizes a Church’s or a family’s “reputation” over the safety and well-being of its members. Not believing or supporting victims re-traumatizes them and hinders both their coming forward and their healing. We will stand in support of survivors. We believe them and we thank them for speaking out to ensure the safety of others. Victims deserve to live a full life, as they often speak of their childhoods being stolen by the one who abused them. If you, or someone you know has been abused by clergy or others, please reach out to SNAP and other support services. Survivors are also encouraged to report any abuse to law enforcement directly, instead of relying on the Diocese to pass along their truth. 

Recently, two priests in the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville have been removed from ministry due to accusations of child sexual abuse. First, Fr. Fernando Gonzalez Ortega was removed from active ministry at St. Luke’s in Brownsville by Bishop Daniel E. Flores on February 3, 2024, just one day after accusations were reported to the diocese. Yet, these claims were not made public for another 10 days. The priest was arrested on February 12, but has been released on a reduced bond: from $800,000 to $200,000.

Then, Msgr. Gustavo Barrera was accused of a child sex crime. Bishop Flores received notification on March 15th. Msgr. Barrera denied the claim, but submitted his resignation and retirement as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen. The accusation was not made public until April 3rd. The Cameron County DA’s office announced on Friday, April 19, that on April 4, a second person accused Msgr. Barrera of sexual misconduct with a child and that they have opened an investigation into this priest.

The public needs to know that abuse within the Catholic Church is not just a problem of the past, as is illustrated by the case of Fr. Ortega. We also want to highlight other cases, such as the accusations made against Msgr. Barrera and the priest named in our brave survivor’s statement. It is important for victims of clergy abuse and witnesses to report abuse to law enforcement, no matter how old the case or even if the accused has died. We believe the best outcomes of child sexual abuse accusations in Catholic institutions come from secular investigations of these crimes.

We know that false accusations of child sexual abuse are very rare. We also know that offenders rarely have just one victim. So, we are convinced there may be others out there who have been hurt by these two men. Most victims come forward between the ages of 50-70, so there is a clear need for Bishop Flores to be proactive in seeking other victims at all parishes in the RGV.

It is disturbing to us that Msgr. Barrera’s attorneys are alleging "slander," especially when the Church followed its protocols to keep children safe. These protocols are based on statistics that, to repeat ourselves, tell us that false outcries are rare: 4-8%. The real problem is underreporting, due to many reasons, but often from a very real fear of not being believed. Memories are not lost, but buried in the brain, to resurface later. It can take decades for survivors to be ready to report their abuse. Many victims endure long-term effects of trauma, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide risk, and substance use disorders. Survivors show great courage in overcoming many of these challenges to report their abuse and to seek help.

Child sexual abuse must be reported to identify hidden predators and their enablers, which will help to prevent future abuse. It is time to make the perpetrators, and the institutions who enabled or allowed the abuse, accountable. It is past time to lift the burden and human costs of abuse off the victims, so they can begin to heal from the trauma of abuse.

CONTACT: Patti Koo, SNAP San Antonio ([email protected], 956-648-7385); David Saavedra, LCSW, Clinical Fellow, AAMFT, Call to Action ([email protected], 956-345-5444); Zac Zepeda, SNAP San Antonio ([email protected], 210-317-7511);  Deb, SNAP Ritual Abuse ([email protected]), (Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 814- 341-8386) 

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant