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Mindset of Syracuse Diocese allows abuse infection to fester

October 23, 2003 - Post-Standard, Syracuse NY
By Marianne Barone Trent and Charles Bailey Jr.

The Rev. James Lang, who oversees the Syracuse Diocese's child and youth protection policy states, "This is now the culture of the Diocese," referring to background checks, code of conduct and criminal checks. "Now we will protect children," he says. Bishop James Moynihan says, "It has been difficult to learn the diocese has not been immune to incidents of child abuse. No one with a background of sexual abuse will be allowed to work with minors."

Let us look at the bishop's choice of the words - "immune" and "incidents." Immune means "free from infection." Moynihan is correct - no one is immune from molestation. However, the definition goes on to say, "protected against any particular infection." The church had decades of hierarchical protection of the infection, which festered like a tumor, and it was protected from getting out.

The bishop's reference to "incidents" is demeaning to any victim of this devastating crime. The definition of "incident" is, "liable to happen, an event, an episode." An incident would be a shouting match, a blackout, a fender-bender, a shooting star, the emptying of a dugout during a baseball brawl.

The attacks, past, present and future, are better defined by words like "sexual assaults," "ritual abuse," "horrors," "terrorism," "murders of the soul."

We know of many victims who have visited the Chancery. They are asked to "forgive and heal." They are told they are credible and their perpetrator will be dealt with. If any of these accused priests had "criminal background checks done," the results would be almost non-existent. Why? Canon law, secret archives, "missing" documents, timely transfers and finally, fear of the power structure of the church and the shame of reporting the abuse (who would believe you?).

Many bishops say, "We want to respect a victim's right to privacy." That is a cop-out. True statistics will never be known. The safety net, due to the mystique, power and awe of the hierarchy, will continue to exist.

As long as our bishop and others continue to believe, as Moynihan stated at his news conference this month, "The sexual abuse policy in place was too harsh, too tough for the accused priests . . . we shouldn't throw them to the wolves," then that will be the mindset - no matter what contracts are signed, how many classes taken, promises made, panel members appointed. A crime is a crime.

We have only seen the first wave. It takes years for victims of clergy abuse to come forward. Many of their abuses took place around prayer, a cross, a threat that "God will get you if you tell," "I will kill your mother," etc. A magic wand was not waved over the nation after "Boston." Abuse did not magically stop. We have access to countless reports, horrendous in nature, from virtually every diocese in the country. It is not minimal, nor should we compare numbers to societal percentages. One is enough: one missile; one broken life; one lost follower of the church; one who didn't live; one who was paid off; one who was threatened if he/she told.

Statistics are growing and we now close to 8-10 percent of priests have abused. Who are they? Are they all "removed"? Is there a "sex offender list" for the public to see? Will Moynihan release the names? Will he open the secret archives? Justice needs to be applied to them just as it would be for you and me.

Danielle Cummings, the diocese's communications director, says "We are shortsighted to say we shouldn't concentrate on only clergy abuse." That is like saying "Don't look at Saddam's regime. See, it happened in Hitler's Germany, too." Diversionary tactics and minimizing will not work any more. Abuse by a member of the clergy is a "slayer of the soul." If anything, clergy members should be held to a higher standard. They still don't get it.

If you are a victim or family member, you may contact SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) at to find the nearest chapter. We offer compassion, support and direction. If you would like to help us change the statute of limitations, you may call the New York State Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the state bishops (518 434-6195), and urge them to put clergy abuse reform on their 2004 legislative agenda.

Marianne Barone Trent heads Oswego's SNAP chapter; Charles Bailey Jr. of Baldwinsville heads the Syracuse chapter.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests