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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

The Survivor's Voice
Op-Ed, Essays, Speeches

Archbishop's words intentionally inflicted harm on women

By David Clohessy
San Antonio Express-News

March 08, 2003

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has read and heard hundreds of comments by bishops on the issue of sexual abuse by priests and others.

We were very dismayed to read Archbishop Patrick Flores' comments of Feb. 21 after the $300,000 settlement of Julia Villegas Phelps' sexual misconduct lawsuit against Father Michael Kenny.

When asked about Phelps' and another woman's claims that the archdiocese's handling of their complaints had damaged their faith, Flores said that their sexual relations with Kenny were consensual, and that their own actions were partly to blame for any loss of faith, too.

"Sin always affects our faith, and they were sinning for all those years," Flores said. "They were not babies. Why didn't they tell us about it when it happened?"

Frankly, we cannot recall a more harsh and hurtful remark made by a church official anywhere.

It is inherently abusive when a highly trained, well-educated, widely respected, allegedly celibate church leader engages in sexual misconduct with a trusting parishioner or congregant.

Surely, Archbishop Flores realizes this; for him to publicly call Father Kenny's victims sinners simply rubs salt in already deep wounds felt by these vulnerable women.

The foremost rule for a physician is simple and vital: First, do no harm. We believe that a shepherd of the church should do likewise.

But SNAP believes Flores did, in fact, harm hurting women and men in the San Antonio archdiocese with such insensitive public remarks.

As victims of abuse by clergy, our trust, confidence, and self-esteem (and sometimes, our faith) has been shattered and destroyed by the years of silence and fear of speaking out.

All abuse victims need to feel that they can break their pain of silence and be heard without fear of being insulted or disbelieved.

To do this, we must create an environment where that feeling of safety dominates.

It is vital that the longstanding culture of secrecy within the church hierarchy be replaced with a genuinely open and receptive culture, a culture in which wounded parishioners feel safe disclosing their victimization, so that they may be healed and so that others may be spared similar harm.

Flores' comments had just the opposite effect.

When anyone who has experienced a sexual assault (whether by a bishop, another cleric, or any other offender — religious or secular) sees authority figures expressing hostility toward abuse victims, it is very painful for all of us.

The issue, by the way, is not Kenny's guilt or innocence.

The issue is what message Flores' words sent to abuse victims.

We, of course, believe these women, especially given the size of the settlement.

But even if Flores honestly believes otherwise, his remarks were still intentionally hurtful.

We strongly urge him to publicly apologize to these two women, and to abuse survivors everywhere, for his imprudent and un-Christian remarks.

David Clohessy is the national director of SNAP. He can be reached at
(314) 566-9790 or [email protected].

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests