SNAP statement to UN Committee Against Torture
For immediate release: Friday, May 2, 2014
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (European cell +39 366 1160224, U.S. cell +1 312 399 4747, Rome hotel- +39 06 598591; [email protected])
First, we humbly ask that you keep in mind that we are convinced that hundreds of innocent children and vulnerable adults are being sexually violated, tortured and assaulted - right now, today - by Catholic clerics.
Second, we ask that you keep in mind that torture and violence can be subtle and manipulative. Or it can be blatant and brutal. Either way, it's horribly destructive to the human spirit, especially when inflicted on the young by the powerful, on the truly devout by the allegedly “holy.”
For 25 years, we in SNAP have tirelessly tried – using every means and methods we could imagine - to get Catholic officials to stop clergy child rapes and sexual violence. We have tried every tactic we could, from politely writing to and speaking with Cardinals, bishops and other church officials, to meeting with panels and committees established by dioceses, religious communities and national bishops’ conferences, to speaking at parish and public forums and begging parishioners to speak up. We have held demonstrations and passed out flyers in all weather conditions in hundreds of cities in dozens of countries. We have written letters to the editors in newspapers, met with police agencies, prosecutors and lawmakers. Nothing has succeeded in getting Vatican officials to stop this violence.
But keep in mind: kids are being assaulted and lives are being wrecked, while Catholic officials split hairs and make technical claims, ducking, dodging and denying responsibility in this forum as they have done for decades in other forums.
We are grateful for this opportunity to address you. You see just a few of us here. But there are hundreds of thousands of us who have had our innocence shattered by being raped and sexually violated by Catholic employees who commit and conceal heinous crimes against children.
We belong to a growing global community of victims of torture, sexual violence and rape called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP. We were founded in 1988 with the simple mission to heal the wounded and to protect the innocent.
Barbara Blaine is the founder and president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She is a survivor of child sexual violence by a priest. She is a social worker, attorney and holds graduate degrees in Law, Theology and Social Work.
In our early days we naively thought church officials would do the right thing. We assumed their callous and reckless response to us was borne of ignorance and inexperience. We thought bishops were cruel to us because they did not know any better. After numerous attempts to explain how they deepened our already painful wounds we began to recognize that they understood all too well. They knew but they did not care. Their concerns were with protecting our perpetrators and reputations not with protecting other children or assisting in our healing.
For most of us enduring the torture, rape and sexual violence was almost unbearable. We know you understand the devastating and potentially life-long consequences. This has broken so many of us, shattered our dreams and goals for our futures, alienated us from loved ones and peers, left us suffering from mental illness, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety diseases and enslaved to addictions and eating disorders.
But the betrayal by church officials was just as damaging and for many, even worse than that of the sexual violence. Those in positions of trust to whom we were taught were closest to God and revered above anyone else including respected teachers, community leaders, politicians, physicians and even our parents, treat us as enemies when we muster enough courage to report the rape and sexual violence we have endured. Rather than being embraced, appreciated and acknowledged we are ostracized, ignored and blamed. This adds additional torture to far too many.
As children, most of assumed we were at fault. We did not have knowledge that we were victims of crimes. We did not have the vocabulary to tell what was happening to us. We felt and were helpless to stop it. We assumed we were “the only ones.” The church employees who raped us were revered in our communities and families. As children, we were taught to respect and obey church officials. The Catholic clerics off who were charged with our care and well-being were the very ones who abused their positions, power and prestige, by actually raping us or covering up for the rapists.
As Catholics we are taught that we need to remain in God’s grace or we will be damned for all eternity. Besides the spiritual alienation and fear of going to hell, the practical experience is that when victims report the crimes we are no longer welcome in our communities which breaks family ties, forces our children to locate to new schools, takes away many of our social connections because so much of our lives are tied to Catholic parishes, schools and other institutions.
The Vatican minimizes the harm caused and pretends that the problem has been corrected and that sexual violence and rape does not happen today in the church. But the evidence that continues to be exposed tells that is simply not true.
This brave young women sitting next to me was raped by a priest in her small Minnesota town only a few years ago. She bravely spoke up and filed criminal and civil charges. But her perpetrator, Fr. Joseph Jeyapaul, went to India and is now fighting extradition back to the US. While in India, church officials assigned him to oversee schools, even though they knew of the charges he faced.
The report we presented outlines many more examples of current and recent cases. Just last month, for instance, Italy's bishops declared they will not insist that priests report known and suspected child sex abuse to secular authorities. And even now, Vatican officials are harboring a Polish archbishop who is wanted by law enforcement for molesting children. Francis' top aides refuse to extradite the accused abuser.
Vatican officials have the ability to stop the sexual violence but refuse to do so. They still deny fostering sexual violence which results in violating the integrity, body and spirit of countless people across the globe. If they were sincere, they would act. They would immediately fire the offending priests, nuns, bishops and brothers who are credibly accused of committing sex crimes. They would punish the bishops who transfer and cover up for predators and honor whistle- blowers instead of firing them. They would turn over their files to police. These simple acts would protect hundreds of thousands of children across the globe immediately.
Our organization now has over 18,000 members from 79 different countries. We continue to hear from more victims almost every day. We come from different nations and generations, with different languages and cultures. But we all seem to know and understand each other because our experiences are so similar. We all know the searing, scorching pain of losing our dignity and innocence through sexual violence at the hands of the most revered in our communities.
But we also have almost identical experiences when we muster the courage to report our crimes to church officials. By and large we are treated as enemies, discouraged from speaking up, accused of exaggerations, blamed for our own victimization, told we are the first victims to report, and promised that remedies will be taken.
Based on decades of evidence, we firmly believe this is the direct result of Vatican practices that permit, excuse and cover up sexual violence within the clergy.
The small number of Catholic groups who attack United Nations panels do not deserve to be taken seriously. Only if they acknowledged and worked to end the sexual violence would they warrant attention.
These disingenuous critics deliberately confuse belief and behavior. Belief is sacrosanct. Behavior is prescribed. Anyone can believe anything. Anyone cannot do anything.
When Catholic clerics are prosecuted for breaking secular laws on child rape, child pornography or indecent exposure, they often challenge the legality or constitutionality of those laws. When Catholic officials are prosecuted for breaking secular laws, like those on child endangerment, they defend themselves by claiming immunity because of religious beliefs.
Sadly, in many cases, complicit Catholic officials attack individuals or institutions that expose and criticize Catholic sexual violence and complicity, whether these are victims, witnesses, whistleblowers or police, prosecutors, journalists or other secular bodies.
We saw it in 2005, when Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali's aides blasted prosecutors for allegedly being "anti-Catholic" after a grand jury report was issued.1
We saw it in 2002, when Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said, that The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe are ''protagonists of . . .a persecution against the church,'' covering the abuse scandal with ''a fury which reminds me of the times of Stalin and Hitler.''2
We saw it in 2010, when 'papal preacher' Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa likened accusations against the pope and the Catholic church in the sex abuse scandal to “a collective violence suffered by the Jews” (according to the Associated Press.)3
We see it time and time and time again, when Catholic officials overtly or subtly blame victims or their advocates. New York's Fr. Benedict Groeschel said “a youngster comes after (a priest). A lot of the cases, the youngster — 14, 16, 18 — is the seducer.”4
The Catholic hierarchy treat these international treaties like they treat their own rarely-enforced policies on sexual violence: as public relations vehicles to enhance their reputations, not as serious commitments to be faithfully honored. This charade must stop.
The Catholic hierarchy has virtually never complained about the United Nations process when it was less rigorous or was favorable to church officials. Now, for the first time, UN panels are addressing, in a fair and forthright way, the continuing sexual violence and cover ups in the church. And now, apologists for the Vatican cry foul.
In March 2014, Francis claimed Catholic officials are being unfairly singled out for criticism on abuse. He said “No-one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to have been attacked.”5
That was disingenuous and self-serving.
Now, Francis' top aides gripe that UN committees – made up of experienced and caring volunteer experts – aren't treating church officials fairly.
These complaints are just as disingenuous and self serving. The Vatican’s new commission on sexual abuse is meeting today. This gives an untrue impression that if Vatican officials had more information they would do the right thing. In fact, they hold sufficient information right now to act yet they refuse to do so.
In February, the Committee on the Rights of the Child made recommendations to Vatican officials about children's safety. The Vatican has yet to enact even one of them or make promises to “study them carefully.”6
We do not oppose clergy sexual violence because we dislike church practices like singing during Mass. We oppose clergy sexual violence because it is devastating to the lives of those who are assaulted by priests, nuns, bishops, brothers, seminarians and Catholic lay employees.
We don't object to widespread cover ups of clergy sexual violence because we object to Catholic fundraising strategies. We object to widespread cover ups of clergy sexual violence because they enable even more clergy sexual violence.
Please do not let them continue to endanger children and dodge accountability. Thank you.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 15,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
2 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/andres-rodriguez-maradiaga-honduran-cardinal-papal-candidate- presents-complex-figure_n_2805695.html; http://www.snapnetwork.org/happy_anniversary; http://www.bishop- accountability.org/news2004_01_06/2004_06_21_Case_CardinalOffered.htm.