The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Sexual Abuse Victims Write to Condoleeza Rice
They Ask Her to Expose and Rebuff Vatican Efforts To Nix Lawsuits
SNAP's Letter Prompted by Church's Recent Move to Squelch Class Action Suit
Leaders of a support group for clergy sex abuse victims are writing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, asking that she expose and rebuff efforts by Vatican officials to interfere in molestation lawsuits in the United States involving the Catholic Church.
Their request is prompted by a report last Thursday in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano asked Rice â€to intervene in a U.S. lawsuit naming the Holy See as the defendant in a sex abuse case' during her Feb. 8th visit to Rome.
The case, a class-action lawsuit filed in Louisville KY, names the Vatican as the lone defendant.
The NCR is an independent weekly newspaper whose Vatican correspondent, John Allen, is perhaps the most widely-respected American journalist at the Holy See.
The support group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), wants to know whether similar requests have been made in the past, and wants Rice to pledge to disclose and oppose any such moves in the future.
"We urge you to expose any such Vatican efforts ' past and future - and to 'just say no' to any such secretive moves to undermine the American justice system and deny justice for those who have been raped and sodomized by clergy," said Peter Isely of Milwaukee. Isely, an abuse survivor, is on the Board of Directors of SNAP, a Chicago-based support group.
According to the NCR, this is â€not the first time, according to (Vatican) observers, that the Vatican has asked the State Department for help on a legal matter.'
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls stated, "It's obvious and reasonable that the Holy See would present its positions as a sovereign entity to the American State Department, and recall the immunity for its acts that international law anticipates."
That statement brought a sharp rebuke from David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's National Director.
"This action is not 'obvious and reasonable.' It is hostile and underhanded," said Clohessy.
However, a Catholic News Service story released on Friday claims that Sodano made no such request. http://www.texascatholic.com/default.asp?IsDev=False&NodeId=839
Last Friday, SNAP members in Los Angeles urged Cardinal Roger Mahony, as the top church prelate in America, to publicly speak out against Sodano's move. Mahony heads the largest archdiocese in America and is perceived by many to be the leader among America's bishops.
"In truth, there is virtually no difference between what Cardinal Sodano in Rome is trying and what Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles is trying. Both are using every conceivable roadblock to keep victims from getting the closure, healing and justice they need and deserve," said Mary Grant of Long Beach, SNAP Regional Director.
Both fear the American justice system and fear more hidden truths surfacing, truths about how bishops covered up the rape of children,' she said.
"But the cover up seems and feels worse, however, when a top Vatican official tries to involve a top US official in these efforts to obstruct closure, healing and justice," Grant said. "It's clear that key Vatican officials are doing what American bishops often do - trying to use legal technicalities and political connections to evade justice and accountability in sex crimes cases."
Grant believes that the Vatican effort to thwart the class action suit is "designed to protect bishops' secrets, reputations and assets, not protect innocent children and vulnerable adults."
"We strongly urge all Catholic leaders, from Cardinal Sodano on down, to stop trying to interfere with the American judicial system and obstruct clergy sex abuse victims who feel compelled to seek justice and healing in court," she said.
A copy of SNAP's letter to Rice, sent today by fax and e-mail, is below:
March 9, 2005
Dear Secretary Rice:
As members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), we are distraught to learn that the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, recently asked you to stop a class-action lawsuit by victims of child sexual abuse. Their search for closure, healing and justice has led these survivors to name the Vatican as this lawsuit's sole defendant (National Catholic Reporter, March 3). For Secretary Sodano to try to force these victims back under the veil of secrecy, attempting to deny them their day in court, by using their own government against them is intolerable.
This request is an insult both to the American government and to victims of child sexual abuse. We commend you for reportedly explaining that under American law, foreign states are required to assert claims of sovereign immunity themselves before U.S. courts.
We ask that you go further and take two actions. First, we ask that you disclose to the American people the number of times and cases that the Vatican has asked for help squashing victims' rights in this country. Second, we ask that you pledge to reveal and rebuff such efforts in the future.
Many American bishops have repeatedly used hardball, legal tactics to break the spirit of victims who try to hold accountable abusive priests and complicit bishops. Indeed, this strategy has been the most disturbing aspect of the decades-old child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Church.
In fact, Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, considered by many to be America's top Catholic prelate, continues to follow this pattern of "stall, delay, and deny", thereby re-victimizing time and time again the many suffering men and women who are courageously seeking accountability and justice.
Many of us who have been sexually abused by priests have forgiven our perpetrators. It is harder, however, to forgive church officials who have repeatedly harbored, shielded, transferred, and defended the perpetrators. When such officials attempt to use their influence to intervene in judicial matters, they rub salt into the already-deep wounds of once trusting Catholic children.
Again, we ask that you do everything in your power to deter, expose, and rebuff such inappropriate and hurtful maneuvers.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests