Essay, Speech


The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

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


Remarks Delivered by John Salveson, Head of SNAP Philadelphia Chapter

November 15, 2002

"Good evening. Thank you for joining us tonight.

Many of the people standing before you this evening, in front of this cathedral, are survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests and other members of the clergy. We are here tonight because of our unwavering commitment to protect children from felony sex offenders, as well as because of our commitment to healing ourselves and helping those who have been violated and abused by the clergy.

We are members of SNAP - the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Our mission is to support anyone abused by a member of the clergy, and to work to hold the church accountable for its actions. We belong to the Philadelphia Chapter of this national organization.

Sexual abuse by clergy of children is not only a criminal offense, it is also a spiritual offense. Sexual predators in priest's clothing rape the souls of the children they abuse. Their actions are violent and repulsive and the repercussions of those actions on abuse victims are lifelong and unremitting.

But many of us here today will tell you that we have been abused twice by the church. After our sexual abuse, we looked to the church and its leadership for help. We asked them to remove abusive priests from the ministry. We asked them to help us heal. We asked them to protect other children from abuse. But we discovered that the most of the bishops and cardinals who lead the church have chosen to protect themselves and their abusive brothers rather than protect and care for the children they have abused. We believe that this is the most profoundly shocking part of this entire tragedy.

This week in Washington, D.C., the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to adopt a revised set of Norms to govern the way they will deal with sexual abuse in the church and the victims of that abuse. These new Norms represent a major step backward in the bishops' commitment to protecting children and helping survivors. These revisions put the power back in the hands of the bishops, diminish the power of the lay people of the church and create a process which we believe will increase the likelihood that abusive priests will be able to remain in the Church and continue to abuse children. Almost as reprehensible as these changes themselves is the bishops' public relations campaign to convince the public that the charter has been strengthened.

We are here this evening to say this: The changes made to the Charter for the Protection of Children in Washington render it virtually useless. Parents who think it will protect their children are mistaken. Survivors who think it will help them heal are wrong. And Catholics in the pews who think the problem is solved could not be more mistaken.

In the handout that contains my remarks are highlights from the new charter that demonstrate how large a step backward the bishops have taken.

The net effect of these revisions is to return to the bishops the exact tool which created this crisis in the first place - their discretion. The fox is back in the hen house.

The church's renewed commitment to protect abusive priests and operate above the law is evident in more than the bishops' decisions in Washington this week.

I have asked Tammy Lerner, SNAP member, to share with you an overview of a legislative tool being promoted by the church to advance its goal of protecting its abusive priests from criminal prosecution.


As we will close this evening, we want to make some very specific requests of Cardinal Bevilacqua and the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

To the people of the church:

  • Meet with your pastors and ask them to help you support survivors of sexual abuse by priests.

  • If you suspect that a child is being abused, by anyone, report it immediately to the police.

  • Talk to your children about how to protect themselves from abusive adults, including priests.

  • Tell the cardinal of your own pain and unhappiness with how the archdiocese has handled the people and families its priests have hurt.

To Cardinal Bevilacqua:

  • Pledge your full and immediate cooperation to the criminal authorities in all cases, past, present and future, involving accusations of abuse against a priest of your archdiocese.

  • Speak out loud and clear against your fellow bishops and cardinals who have sheltered abusive priests. Demand that they face serious consequences for their actions.

  • Reach out to the survivors of abuse, and their families. Remove the barriers they face in getting help.

  • Use the final year of your tenure to set a national example for the church. Don't be satisfied being the best of the worst on this issue. Be the best of the best

We will now close by observing a moment of silence to support the survivors of abuse and their families, and to express our hope that those survivors who live in isolation and fear will find the courage and strength to come forward and join us.


Thank you for being here this evening."

Addendum: Highlights from the new charter

  • The definition of what constitutes abusive behavior is no longer based on civil law. It is based on the sixth commandment, and ultimately left up to each bishop to define.

  • Credible abuse accusations must be reported to the criminal authorities only if the law requires that reporting. Therefore, in states such as Pennsylvania, where clergy are not required to report sexual abuse, each bishop will decide if they wish to report abuse to the authorities.

  • If you come forward with an abuse allegation after the age of 28, you will be outside of the range of the bishops' new statute of limitations.

  • The sole authority responsible for determining if an accusation of abuse against a priest is true is the bishop.

  • The process to determine what should happen to abusive priests is cumbersome, secretive and entirely carried out inside the church.

  • Those lay people who serve on review boards in each diocese have lost all power. They are solely advisory in nature.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests