The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Clergy Sex Abuse Group Seeks Help From Bishop
They Urge Cote To Support Accused Pedophile Priest Privately, Not Publicly
Actions of Some Parishioners May Intimidate Other Victims & Witnesses, SNAP Says
Leaders of a support group for clergy molestation victims are writing a Connecticut bishop urging him to respond more compassionately to possible victims of a priest who was suspended two weeks ago after being accused of molesting at least one youngster.
Officials with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are concerned that the actions of Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote and some Norwichtown parishioners may intimidate others who experienced or witnessed or suspected sexual assaults or misconduct by Fr. Thomas McConaghy. McConaghy was removed from active ministry by Cote on February 28 because of a credible allegation of sexual abuse.
McConaghy worked at Sacred Heart Parish in Norwichtown and its Mission Church of St. John in Fitchville
Bishop Cote has a duty to make it easier, not harder, for abuse victims to come forward, said Landa Mauriello-Vernon of Hamden. She is the SNAPs Connecticut director. By publicly praising a possible child molester, he may well have frightened other victims or witnesses into keeping quiet.
Cote was notified by Rockville Centre diocesan officials of the allegations against McConaghy in February. The abuse was alleged to have occurred in that Long Island diocese between 1973 and 1975, while McConaghy was a member of the Christian Brothers working at LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y.
Despite suspending him, Cote allowed McConaghy to speak to parishioners at the end of all masses this past weekend. According to a diocesan spokesperson, McConaghy vigorously denied the allegations to parishioners.
This is a terribly inappropriate and intimidating abuse of power. Catholics attend mass to hear spiritual lessons, to hear possible criminals defend themselves, said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAPs national director. Cote cant have it both ways. He cant claim to care about victims and ask victims to come forward while at the same time allowing accused priests to misuse the pulpit to scare victims into continued secrecy.
SNAP is asking that a survivor be allowed to address the parish to speak about how they can support the accused priest without intimidating other victims of sexual abuse, by clerics or other offenders. They are also asking that anyone who has information regarding Father McConaghy contact civil authorities, such as law enforcement and district attorneys, rather than the diocese. The group also wants information on SNAP self-help groups to be placed in all diocesan publications, including bulletins and newspapers.
A copy of SNAPs letter, sent today by fax and e mail, is below:
March 9, 2005
Dear Bishop Cote,
We are writing to you concerning Father. R. Thomas McConaghy, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Norwichtown. As you know, Fr. McConaghy has been accused sexually abusing at least one child between 1973 and 1975, while he was a member of the Christian Brothers working at LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y.
Removing a suspected child molester from active ministry is the least you can and should do. However, we feel you have a moral duty to go beyond a "bare minimum" approach. When it comes to the potential safety of children, a higher standard of care must be met.
We want you to use your teaching skills and your leadership position to educate all area Catholics in a critical matter: how to best support and comfort their priest without unintentionally intimidating abuse victims and witnesses.
If someone wants to offer support to an accused priest, they should do it privately. Publicly honoring Father McConaghy essentially says, "We think you're innocent and your alleged victim is lying," or "We think you're important and your victim is not." Either message is very insensitive. We've seen abusive priests escape civil accountability, evade criminal prosecution, retain their priesthoods, be re-instated and re-assigned. But nothing drives victims into hopelessness more than seeing a known or suspected molester is publicly praised and honored.
Even if the priest turns out to be innocent, somewhere in the parish is a young girl being molested by a relative or a boy being abused by his coach or youth leader. If these children see adults they love and respect publicly rallying around an accused perpetrator, they will be less likely to report their own victimization to their parents, the police, or other authorities. They will be scared into remaining silent, and their horrific pain will continue.
We are concerned that Father McConaghy was permitted to address parishioners at masses this past weekend. After all, you removed him from public ministry on February 28th. Why was he allowed to give his one-sided version of events? Will you invite the person who has accused Father McConaghy of sexual abuse (and/or his representative) to meet with the same parishioners? 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.
We also want you to visit each parish where Father McConaghy worked and personally and publicly encourage anyone who may have witnessed, suspected or experienced abuse by Father McConaghy to come forward now to law enforcement.
We are asking you, as some other bishops have done, to put our support group number and contact information in all parish bulletins, the diocesan paper, and the diocesan website. This would show your open-minded and sincere willingness to make sure that all victims know that they are not alone and that their fellow victims are ready to help them.
We urge you to prod your staff and your flock to:
* Have open discussions regarding Father McConaghy and his behavior
with their friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners;
Please follow this advice yourself. Please refrain from publicly praising Fr. McConaghy. (In your letter to Sacred Heart parishioners, you wrote "My heart and prayer go out to Father Tom...This resignation . . . should stand as an _expression of his concern. I take this opportunity to acknowledge his fine priestly work and to thank him for the dedication to all of you."
We are hopeful you will do more to protect children and help victims of clergy sexual abuse. We are hopeful that you 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 look forward to your prompt response.
Landa Mauriello-Vernon, CT SNAP Director, 203-687-8072, [email protected]
David Clohessy, National Director, 314-566-9790, [email protected]
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests