Roster of Statements


The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Thursday, June 16, 2011

AK bishop tries to weaken weak policy; SNAP responds

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])

Every Alaska Catholic and every US bishop should be ashamed of former Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley. It’s appalling that he wants to further weaken an already weak policy on sex abuse to somehow reduce the chances of lawsuits by deeply wounded victims.

Of course there's room for forgiveness. I have forgiven the priest who molested me. I hope that every victim can do the same. I hope all those who’ve ever been hurt can forgive all the wrong-doers.

But it's about protection of the innocent, not about punishment of the guilty. The reason we lock up molesters is not vengeance, it's safety.

Most of these men are dangerous. They are shrewd, manipulative, skillful, and deceitful.

Unlike carjackers and muggers, they don't need or rely on physical prowess or speed to commit their crimes. They rely on their cunning.

Unlike pick-pockets and shoplifters, they don't become less able to commit their crimes as they get older, they become more able, because through experience they learn even better how to detect and seduce the vulnerable and cover up their crimes. Plus they have the advantage – with stooped shoulders, graying hair, soft voices – of seeming even more harmless than they may have seemed in their youth.

There's also a huge difference between public policy and personal choice. I can choose to forgive my predator. That's admirable. But I can't knowingly allow him the chance to hurt others. That's irresponsible.

If we allow a convicted drunken driver to get behind the wheel of a school bus filled with kids, is that forgiveness or folly?

Look at Pope John Paul II. He visited his would-be assassin in prison. He prayed for the criminal. He did not, however, urge that the violent man be released. To do so would not have been Christian. It would have been reckless.

It pains me when some misunderstand and misapply the notion of forgiveness in ways that lead to putting other innocent kids and vulnerable adults in harm's way again, even in cases of proven, serial, predatory behavior by dangerous men.

One final point: we forgive after, not during, wrong-doing. In many instances, even now, the church hierarchy continues to act secretively, callously, and recklessly, which makes it extremely hard for some victims to even begin thinking about forgiveness.

(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 23 years and have more than 10,000 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

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])

U.S. Bishops debating, updating sex abuse rules

By Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

BELLEVUE, Wash. —The nation's Roman Catholic bishops began a review of church sex abuse policies here on Wednesday (June 15), bypassing several recent reports that raise questions about whether the rules are effective at removing abusive priests.

The bishops' brief public discussion seemed a mere prelude to private debates taking place throughout the week behind closed doors. The bishops are scheduled to vote on revisions to the church guidelines on Thursday.

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., who chairs a church committee dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse, said the church's current policy is working.

"The charter has served the church well," said Cupich, referring to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, originally passed in 2002. "It is a helpful tool as we keep our pledge to protect children and promote healing in our church."

Most of the proposed revisions bring church rules in line with Vatican norms issued in 2010, which equate child abuse with abusing the mentally disabled, and make the acquisition, possession, or distribution of child pornography a church crime.

The bishops adopted the charter and related rules known as the "Essential Norms" after the sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston and spread nationwide. Catholic leaders point to a sharp decline in new sex abuse allegations — seven were reported in 2010 — as evidence that the rules remain effective.

But victims' advocates say reports of ethical lapses by church leaders in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo., prove that the nonbinding church policies are weak and rife with loopholes.

"They fall short of having any consequences for bishops' actions," said Mary Dispenza of Bellevue, who said that she was raped by a priest in 1947 in Los Angeles.

Dispenza and several other professed victims protested outside the bishops' hotel and pressed them to adopt guidelines that include penalties for church leaders who break them.

But Cupich said the bishops conference does not have the power to sanction church officials, and that when followed as written, the charter is effective.

"If we look at the cases, it is when the charter was not followed correctly or implemented correctly that we get into difficulty," Cupich said.

Cupich also said that only amendments "seen as strengthening the charter" were accepted by his committee.

The committee rejected more than 20 amendments proposed by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., who has refused to follow aspects of the charter, such as allowing outside auditors to assess his compliance with church sex abuse rules.

"The USCCB bureaucracy cannot bind bishops to obey the charter," Bruskewitz said. "It is fundamentally dishonest to tell the faithful and the general public that the USCCB has any authority whatsoever to bind dioceses ... to obey the charter. The more commitments, the more grounds for lawsuits."

Archbishop Francis Hurley, former head of the archdiocese of Anchorage, argued that church policies aimed at reconciliation should include returning priest-abusers to ministry.

"Don't we believe in forgiveness?" he asked.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, angrily rejected Hurley's suggestion. "Forgiveness has nothing to do with justice," Dorris said outside the bishops' hotel. "Forgiveness does not stop pedophiles or protect children."

A scathing grand jury report released in February excoriated church leaders in Philadelphia for failing to remove 37 priests who were credibly accused of abuse, withholding information from a lay review board and failing to implement "safe environment" programs in schools — all breaches of church rules.

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali will not attend the bishops' meeting outside Seattle, according to a spokeswoman. He is representing the pope at a celebration in the Czech Republic to honor St. John Neumann, a 19th-century archbishop of Philadelphia.

Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn recently apologized for failing to remove a priest from ministry despite a warning from church officials. The priest was arrested in May on child pornography charges. Finn is attending the Seattle meeting.

The U.S. church has spent more than $2 billion on sex abuse settlements, "safe environment" training for staff, and two sweeping studies that sought to explain the causes and scope of a scandal that has claimed 15,700 victims since 1950.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests