SNAP Says to Bishops: Stop Priests Suing Victims


August 30, 2002

Dear Bishop Gregory:

Just two months ago in Dallas, you and your colleagues made many promises. America's Catholic bishops, by an overwhelming margin, pledged to

- "demonstrate a sincere commitment to the spiritual and emotional well-being
(of abuse survivors)"

-"deal as openly as possible with members of the community. This is especially so with regard to assisting and supporting parish communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct involving minors"

- "increase our vigilance to prevent those. . . who might exploit the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purposes from doing so"

- "work to our utmost for the protection of children and youth"

- "work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics"

-"reach out to those who suffer, but especially to the victims of sexual abuse and their families" and

-"restore the bonds of trust that unite us"

We applaud these goals. Sadly, they are being severely undermined by a handful of bishops who are allowing their priests to sue alleged sexual abuse victims. Today we call upon you, as the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to stop and speak out against these brutal legal attacks.

No one denies the possibility of false or mistaken accusations. No one denies that priests should be able to mount a legal defense. But few deny that a cleric suing their former parishioners is inexcusable. Simply put, priests can defend themselves without attacking their accusers. That is all we ask.

This litigation, we believe, is un-Christian and vengeful. Not only does it directly contradict the provisions of the much-touted Dallas Charter, cited above. It also directly contradicts what you and so many church leaders have repeatedly stressed: that you want victims to come forward and disclose their abuse. These hostile acts will scare victims into continued depression, shame, self-blame and silence, thus putting children needlessly at risk.

We can only hope, however, that vicious, un-Christian legal tactics like this will backfire. In our experience, they sometimes do. Instead of being frightened into submission by such hateful antics, abuse victims sometimes feel even more driven to come forward, expose their abusers and protect children. Again, for the sake and safety of children, we in SNAP hope this proves to be the case. Immoral as it may be, we hope that in the long run, this lawsuit will prod hurting men and women into coming forward and
getting the help they need and deserve.

Regardless of the impact of this inexcusable lawsuit on others, you should know that such hardball tactics only deepen SNAP's resolve to reach out to those who are suffering in silence, secrecy and shame because of sexual abuse by trusted clergy.

"Innocent victims and their families have suffered terribly," reads the bishops' charter. We couldn't agree more. This suffering, however, is deepened when once trusted and revered Catholic priests sue former members of their flock. Pleas show us that your words in Dallas were not empty promises.

Please live up to the promises you and your fellow bishops have made, protect
children and abuse survivors, and stop this cruel litigation.


David Clohessy of St. Louis
Executive Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
314-566-9790 cell, 314 443-5915

Barbara Blaine of Chicago
President, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
312-399-4747 cell

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  • published this page in 2002 & 2003 2011-07-25 10:58:29 -0500

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