USA--Colleges get religious exemptions; Victims group is wary

For immediate release: Friday, Dec. 11, 2015

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those abused by Priests (314 566

It’s troubling to learn that dozens of colleges have won exemptions from laws that apply to other institutions. We believe these exemptions will make these colleges less safe for students and staff and will make it easier for administrators to hide sexual violence.

Time and time again, we’ve seen officials in many church groups claim they can’t be sued for child sex crimes or adult sexual exploitation because of their religious beliefs. We’ve seen them seek and get special treatment ostensibly because of their faith, only to use that special treatment to hid offenders and enablers and escape punishment for their wrongdoing. So we are highly skeptical of the wisdom of these exemptions.

Given how widespread child sex crimes and campus sexual violence are, we beg government officials to be very cautious and move slowly with exemptions that might make it tougher for victims to expose school staff who commit or conceal these crimes. When religious figures perpetrate or hide sex crimes, they must be held responsible in court like any other employers.

(At least a couple of Catholic institutions that have gotten exemptions have been embroiled in clergy sex scandals, including Franciscan University in Ohio and Belmont Abbey in North Carolina.)

Religious freedom is important. But so too is personal safety, especially for innocent kids and vulnerable adults. We should bend over backwards to tolerate religious belief. But we should go even further to protect personal safety. And we should never confuse belief with behavior. With belief, anything goes. With behavior, there are limits. And those limits preclude religious officials from exploiting their faith to evade consequences for immoral, hurtful acts of sexual violence or deceit about that violence.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 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,, Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003 cell,, Barbara Blaine (


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