Posts Tagged abuse survivors

Pope’s abuse prevention commission prioritizes survivors, education / Catholic News Agency

According to an April 22 communique from the commission, the first day of their plenary was dedicated to hearing thoughts and testimonies from survivors of clerical sexual abuse, many of them members of the Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP) of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission of England and Wales. (Catholic News Agency)

Pope Francis’ commission for the protection of minors met in Rome last week to listen to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and to discuss abuse prevention education and policy, and ways the Church might work more closely with abuse survivors.

“According to an April 22 communique from the commission, the first day of their plenary was dedicated to hearing thoughts and testimonies from survivors of clerical sexual abuse, many of them members of the Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP) of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission of England and Wales.

“Those who attended voiced appreciation for being listened to, and described the encounter as ’empowering.’

“One of the survivors, according to the communique, voiced hope that their visit would help the commission “develop a wider network of survivors who are willing to advise and support” the commission’s work in a similar manner.”

By Elise Harris, Catholic News Agency — Read more …

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Francis admits ‘serious mistakes’ in handling of Chile abuse cases / National Catholic Reporter

“I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis says in the letter. (National Catholic Reporter)

Pope Francis has admitted making ‘serious mistakes’ in his handling of clergy sexual abuse cases in Chile, telling the country’s bishops in a lengthy letter that he feels ‘pain and shame’ for the ‘crucified lives’ of those who suffered abuse.

“But Francis has not revealed whether he will sack a Chilean prelate accused of covering up abuse, whom he has previously defended to the outrage of abuse survivors. Instead, Francis has asked the country’s bishops to come to Rome en masse for a meeting at some point soon.

“In a letter released late April 11, Francis is reporting to the bishops about the mission of Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, whom the pope sent to Chile in February to interview abuse victims and look into the case of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid.

“‘I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,’ Francis says in the letter.

By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …

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How are clergy sexual abuse survivors to grasp Pope Francis calling them “slanderers”?

Voice of Faithful often receives calls from survivors seeking assistance and comfort. We received one such call from a distraught survivor on the same day that news media reports circulated about Pope Francis calling survivors “slanderers” for accusing Bishop Juan Borros Madrid of Osorno, Chile, covering up their abuse.

The survivor had been part of the original settlement between his diocese and his abuser’s victims and says he now is being denied compensation for therapy that was part of the settlement. He must ask the diocese each time he wants to see a therapist and is being denied because the diocese apparently does not consider his therapy necessary.

He has spoken with several lawyers, presented his story to many local news outlets, sent letters to his bishop, and sent innumerable emails and letters and had many phone conversations with the diocese’s pastoral support office. He has exhausted all avenues through which he might expect to receive justice. Yet, he considers himself lucky because he has not turned to alcohol or drugs to dull his pain or suicide to end it, as other survivors have, and says he knows of some who will not deal with the diocese because of the agony of disbelief they would have to endure.

Stories like these remind us at VOTF that whatever words the hierarchy may use about clergy sexual abuse, real-life failures continue. That’s one reason why, having placed renewed hope for redress of the scandal in Pope Francis, his recent remarks during his visit to Chile about survivors being “slanderers” are so disconcerting.

Just before a Mass at the end of his visit to Chile, the pope is reported to have said, “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?” Earlier in his visit to Chile, the pope had wept with survivors, admonished Chile’s clergy for abuse and betrayed trust, apologized for “irreparable damage” done by abuse, and sought forgiveness from victims. Returning to Rome, the Pope is reported to have said he regretted the language of his remarks but maintained his support for Bishop Barros.

Which message should survivors hear – the Pope weeping with them and admonishing Chile’s clergy for abuse and betrayal of trust, apologizing for “irreparable” damage done by abuse, and seeking forgiveness? Or, calling them “slanderers” and demanding some sort of proof other than their testimony?

Sadly, our survivor’s story jibes more with the pope who accuses survivors of slander than the pope who weeps for suffering. His experience seems a case study in everything the Church has done wrong in addressing the abuse scandal and its victims/survivors.

VOTF has attempted to listen and to promote healing throughout the 15 years since Boston’s clergy sexual abuse crisis initiated our movement. We will continue to do so – and to insist on accountability for the bishops who covered up abuse and who even today are denying full justice for survivors.

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Pope meets with abuse survivors, weeps with them in Chile / Associated Press

“But his meeting with abuse survivors and comments in his first speech of the day were what many Chileans, incensed by years of abuse scandal and cover-up, were waiting for.” (Associated Press)

“Pope Francis met on Tuesday (Jan. 16) with survivors of priests who sexually abused them, wept with them and apologized for the ‘irreparable damage’ they suffered, his spokesman said.

“The pontiff also acknowledged the ‘pain’ of priests who have been held collectively responsible for the crimes of a few, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters at the end of the day.

“Francis dove head-first into Chile’s sex abuse scandal on his first full day in Santiago that came amid unprecedented opposition to his visit …

But his meeting with abuse survivors and comments in his first speech of the day were what many Chileans, incensed by years of abuse scandal and cover-up, were waiting for.”

By Peter Prengaman and Nicole Winfield, Associated Press — Read more …

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Seven victims name priests who sexually abused them as children / The New York Times

Broken Vessels

Voice of the Faithful’s Broken Vessel Healing Circles program offers Catholic clergy sexual abuse survivors a step along a path towards healing.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that participants in the program “have the absolute right to speak about their abuse and their abuser at any time, to whomever they want, however they want.”

Seven men who were abused as children by priests of the Archdiocese of New York revealed on Thursday (May 18) some of the details of the settlements they had received through the archdiocese’s new sexual abuse survivor compensation fund.

“Since October, more than 100 victims have settled their sex abuse cases with the archdiocese by taking their claims to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. But very few details have been revealed because the program keeps the cases confidential, and no victims have yet spoken out.”

By Sharon Otterman, The New York Times — Read more …

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SNAP in the crosshairs / Thomas Doyle

Photo of Tom DoyleRev. Thomas P. Doyle, who has a doctorate in canon law and five master’s degrees, sacrificed a rising career at the Vatican Embassy to become an outspoken advocate for church abuse victims. Since 1984, when he became involved with the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy while serving at the Embassy, he has become an expert in the canonical and pastoral dimensions of this problem—working directly with victims, their families, accused priests, and Church officials.

SNAP is well known by sex abuse survivors throughout the world. It’s also well known by those who still believe the clergy abuse phenomenon is a gross exaggeration that is primarily about harming the Church.

SNAP was started by Barbara Blaine in 1988. Barbara is a survivor of sexual violation by a priest whom she and her family trusted. She was violated as a pre-teen. By the time she was a young woman the scars were still as painful as ever. Barbara started SNAP as a support group for other survivors because, as she herself has said, “No one else would help so we had to help ourselves.”

Barbara was dead right. I have been involved with survivors since 1984. I have heard many … more than I can count … tell their sad and shocking stories. All were from devout Catholic families and naturally turned to the Church for help, but to their added shock they found they were being ignored, lied to, threatened into silence and in general treated as if they had some sort of communicable disease. Barbara Blaine experienced this and had the courage to stand up rather than stay a victim.

SNAP grew steadily because the number of victims increased when the media began actually covering it and not burying it. SNAP and the LINKUP were the only places victims could go for support. The Church was no help. In fact, when victims got involved with the Church, even to a minor degree, they almost always ended up being re-traumatized.

By the nineties, SNAP members were not just sitting in rooms listening to each other’s stories. They were organizing for a purpose: to get the attention of the bishops and the institutional church. Sex abuse by clerics was far more widespread than anyone imagined and certainly far, far worse than the Church spokespersons claimed.

This was not a few bad apples, a passing problem, or a temporary nuisance. This was the uncovering of the worst crisis the institutional Catholic Church had faced in at least a thousand years, and it was not from the outside but from within.

The institutional Catholic Church responded to the victims of abuse by its own clerics (including bishops and cardinals) in a manner that shocked, angered and scandalized not only the victims but countless others. The official Church’s highest and really only priority was self-preservation and the institutional image. The often-used term “the good of the church” really meant the good of the bishops.

The victims would have been trampled underfoot and left in the dust if it had not been for Barbara Blaine, Dave Clohessy, and the other courageous founders and leaders of SNAP.

Needless to say, SNAP wasn’t high on the list of favorites for a lot of people, especially the bishops. SNAP members got in their faces, openly criticized them, called them out for hiding predators, and condemned their duplicitous words and actions. They wrote letters, held press conferences, demonstrated and, most important, gave other victims courage to come out of the shadows.

Here was this little group of people with no money and no political connections facing off with the Catholic bishops of the United States. In spite of the impossible odds and the massive power imbalance, they made headway.

Why? Because they were right and the Church was wrong.

Now, SNAP is in the crosshairs. As most know, a former employee has filed a lawsuit that makes several allegations and in general tries to portray SNAP as a deceptive, dishonest criminal enterprise. The plaintiff makes a number of serious accusations in her complaint, but they really are aimed at SNAP’s top national leaders and not the organization. She departed SNAP four years ago and now has decided to file a lawsuit.

Her contention that SNAP was actually a cover for an elaborate system involving steering victims to attorneys who in turn paid it kickbacks is ludicrous. Victims from all over the world call SNAP leaders, especially the national leaders, all the time and a common request is for the name of a lawyer.

SNAP is far more than the national offices, which consists of a handful of people. In reality the organization is a collection of local chapters each with its own leadership. Most direct contact with victims happens on the local level because that’s where the SNAP membership is.

When responding to requests for lawyers, the SNAP policy always has been to respond to with three names or more. I also have gotten plenty of requests for help in finding a lawyer. (I gave up recommending victims to their local diocesan headquarters because I learned that this was not only useless but counter-productive.) I recommend the names of attorneys in the area where the person lives … if more than one lawyer is available, I give them contact points for all. I have never acted as an intermediary between a victim and a specific attorney. Instead I suggest they contact the attorney themselves.

On many occasions, I am asked to connect the person to a specific attorney, and the number one name on the list is Jeff Anderson. I always explain that if they are looking to get Jeff Anderson, they need to know that he does not practice in every State in the union nor can he possibly take every case that comes his way. If someone wants Jeff’s phone number or that of anyone else, I give it.

That’s how the SNAP leaders operate too. I don’t get any royalties or kickbacks, nor does SNAP.

It’s true that attorneys have donated money to SNAP over the years. Forbes Magazine wrote an article about this a few years ago and tried to make it sound like the practice was immoral, unethical, illegal, or all three—and in fact it is none of the above.

People ask for specific attorneys like Jeff Anderson because he is known worldwide and, most important, he is known to be a very compassionate and caring man. I’ve known him since 1989 and he is in fact caring and compassionate besides being a brilliant attorney. To even dream that he has some sort of backroom deal with SNAP is not only lunacy but an insult to his intelligence. He and the other attorneys who do the bulk of the sex abuse cases are not stupid. To get engaged in a kickback scheme would be stupid and, worse, it would be professionally suicidal.

SNAP has incurred the wrath of a lot of bishops and a lot of devout lay Catholics. Why? One of the more obvious reasons given is that SNAP appears to attack the Church and it never lets people forget that the “problem” is still with us. The bishops and a lot of lay people would like to see SNAP suddenly disappear into the mist—but not just SNAP: all victims and their supporters.

SNAP and the victims are a major threat to the equilibrium and to the secure image projected by the institutional Catholic Church. Shaking up the security people have in their Church, especially one that promises them salvation in exchange for obedience, docility and generosity, is bound to generate a hostile response.

Much of the hostility, anger and denial generated by the clergy abuse issue are grounded in the unwillingness to accept the reality that the Church and its clergy aren’t as perfect as people expect them to be.

One adult woman I knew, a victim of rape by a priest at twelve, put it succinctly: “Clergy abuse has destroyed the security we had that the priests would tell us everything we needed to do and to know. Now, we have to take charge of our own spirituality and be adult Catholics. That’s hard.”

Much of the angry rhetoric comes in the form of accusations that victims are dissenters from doctrine or that they are pushing anti-orthodox agendas (e.g., birth control, ordination of women). The most common accusation is that SNAP, the victims, and anyone on their side is attacking the Church.

Most victims could care less about Church teachings. They are interested in honesty and justice, two commodities in short supply in the institutional Church. The sexual violation of minors or adults and the lying and cover-up by bishops has nothing to do with orthodoxy, dissent or belief in official dogmas. It has everything to do with betrayal by the trusted clergy. But most important, it’s about the violation of the bodies and souls of the vulnerable.

Sex abuse by clergy has been around since the beginning of the Catholic Church. The institutional Church, i.e., the hierarchy, has controlled the responses to victims throughout the centuries. Until now, that is.

When Barbara started SNAP 30 years ago, she and the original members knew they were on their own and that they were up against the largest religious organization on earth, with more money, resources, power and influence than they could ever imagine. But they knew sex abuse was wrong and covering it up and lying to victims was far worse.

They didn’t have any of the resources the official church had, but they knew two things: One, they had truth … what happened to them was real, it was deeply wrong, and that was the truth. Second, they knew that the Church didn’t stop with priests and bishops. The victims were just as much “the Church” as the college of cardinals and the pope. In the eyes of Christ, everyone was on a level playing field.

So, the fundamental difference between victims now and victims 300 years ago is this: Today’s victims have taken charge of their own destiny. They are determining the course of the sex abuse nightmare. They are working to protect children today and in the future. They are in charge, not the bishops or their lawyers and not even the pope.

The fact that there have been so many grand juries, state-sponsored investigations (e.g., Ireland, England, Australia), criminal convictions and civil judgments is evidence that the official Church is no longer in control. If the Church government had been able to sidetrack all of these it would have, but this time around the bishops just don’t have the horses.

I can’t comment on many of the detailed accusations in the plaintiff’s complaint because they are about a lawsuit from Illinois which I know little about. The allegations are also about a number of individual incidents that appear to have taken place between her and the two top leaders of SNAP but certainly not the full organization.

However, I can comment on two issues, one that appears in the complaint and the other that has been in the news coverage.

David Clohessy and Barbara Blaine have resigned their positions at SNAP. Some news reports have alleged there is a connection between the lawsuit and the resignations. A couple of commentators on the events have pronounced that both have resigned in disgrace because of the lawsuit. The only source of information any of them have is from the complaint itself. In fact, David had planned on resigning in 2016, before anyone knew about the suit. Barbara planned her departure before the suit was known, and it was only by coincidence that it was announced at the same time the suit was announced. Both of them had been on the front lines for three decades and well deserved a break from the non-stop stress of their positions.

The other accusation made against SNAP is that its primary goal is to hurt the Catholic Church. They don’t need to hurt the Church. The Church does a better job of hurting itself than anyone could possibly do.

SNAP has been accused of “Catholic-bashing” by just about everyone who disagrees with it or is threatened by it. Exposing world-wide sexual abuse by clergy and cover-up by bishops is not Catholic-bashing. It is telling the truth and exposing an entire culture of sex abuse that is diametrically opposed to everything the Catholic Church stands for.

Those who persist in believing that the victims’ real agenda is combatting Church teaching on various sexual issues are wildly delusional.

The accusation itself is senseless if you think about it for a minute. Consider the bottom line. On one side, we have the Roman Catholic Church, which has the most stringent sexual/morality policies of any religion on earth and teaches that every kind of sexual activity, with the exception of procreative sex by married partners, is mortally sinful—and also insists that these policies can’t even be discussed. On the other side, we have the Church’s leadership exposed for enabling and hiding clerics who have perpetrated the vilest of sexual acts, the molestation of children and the vulnerable. Does that configuration perhaps have some semblance to institutionalized hypocrisy?

Those who claim the victims and SNAP are out to “get the Church” obviously either don’t know or they reject a basic teaching of ecclesiology: The Church is the People of God, not just the clergy, the hierarchy, the devout who are at Mass every Sunday, or those who agree with every teaching and doctrine. The Church also is the victims, their parents, their spouses, and those who try to help them. It’s those who disagree with one or the other teaching or practice, and it’s those who see the layers of institutional corruption, inaction, and narcissism.

It’s pretty obvious there are plenty of people who don’t know the difference between the clerical establishment, the church’s governmental system and the People of God.

SNAP is down right now but it’s far from out. It’s made up of too many brave, committed and courageous people who are in it because they want the Church to be what it’s supposed to be: a true, living Christian community and not a gilded kingdom for the privileged or the nostalgic.

March 5, 2017

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Sharing stories of sexual abuse ‘helps to heal the hurt’ / National Catholic Reporter

“I believe this is one of the keys to understanding and healing the sexual abuse wounds in the church. It isn’t that people are just looking to bash the church, or that they want to wallow in victimhood. They desperately need to be heard so that the hurt can be healed in God’s way. When I experienced this phenomenon recently (at a Voice of the Faithful Healing Circle), Dot’s almost hokey way of describing our primal human need came back to me.”

‘Having the horror heard helps to heal the hurt. My stepmother, Dot, shared her wonderfully alliterative mantra with me years ago as we pondered the benefits of a person going to a counselor when stuck in pain. In her wise and eye-twinkling way, Dot — whose husband had been struck by a car and killed many years before, leaving her with 12 children to raise — was telling me how she had survived.

“After my mother died suddenly from brain cancer at 64, my father, Tom, was traumatized with grief and seemed to be on his way ‘out of the picture,’ as he used to say of others who had died. One of my nine sisters, Kate, challenged him to get up and start living again. ‘Because at least you had a life before Mama, but we never did,’ she reminded him. My father not only started to live again, five years later he married Dot. Between the two of them — Dot with her 12 kids, and Tom with his 14 — they had 26 mostly grown children. Talk about having the horror heard!

“Dot’s mantra shows how she understands people getting over the pains of life. They need to be heard. If someone is willing to listen to the horrors that befall us, it feels like we are not alone. We can bear it and even find meaning in it. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.’

“I believe this is one of the keys to understanding and healing the sexual abuse wounds in the church. It isn’t that people are just looking to bash the church, or that they want to wallow in victimhood. They desperately need to be heard so that the hurt can be healed in God’s way. When I experienced this phenomenon recently, Dot’s almost hokey way of describing our primal human need came back to me.”

By Paul F. Morrissey, National Catholic Reporter — Click here to read the rest of this column. Augustinian Fr. Paul F. Morrissey is the author of “The Black Wall of Silence.”

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