By Linda Pieczynski, Member, DignityUSA Board of Directors
“The best year ever” is how David Clohessy, National Director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), described the child protection movement at its annual SNAP conference held July 30-August 1, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. In 2010, the child abuse scandal arrived on the doorstep of the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI personally implicated in the coverup. “SNAP has been faithful to its mission: protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded”, said Clohessy.
Over 200 survivors and supporters listened to Illinois Justice Anne Burke, former chair of the Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board, Tom Doyle, canon lawyer and long time supporter, Phillip Koss, the prosecutor who handled the case of Jesuit Fr. McGuire—a spiritual director for Mother Teresa, and visitors from Europe who were involved in recent events. Both DignityUSA and National Call To Action were represented at the conference and showed their support for SNAP and its members.
A number of things became clear at the conference. The national movement to abolish the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases is not going to go away as witnessed by a survivor who organized supporters of legislation that abolished Florida’s statute of limitations this year. Speaker after speaker rejected the Vatican’s attempt to blame gay priests for the crisis, recognizing it as scape–goating. Instead, they called on conference attendees to focus their attention on the bishops who covered up the crimes such as Cardinal Law who lives in splendor in Rome. Also, the Vatican can no longer claim that the sex abuse crisis is an American problem or the fault of the media.
Victor Vieth, the first director of the National Child Protection Training Center, spoke eloquently about the psychological harm done to individuals when the people who represented God are their offenders. He said that perpetrators target children of very religious people because they are so gullible and quick to forgive.
One shocking statistic to come out of the conference is that in those dioceses where full disclosure has been imposed by agreement with law enforcement agencies due to court enforced agreements, the actual rate of priest perpetrators is 10%.
I was struck by the parallels between the sexual abuse victim rights movement and the GLBT rights movement. People have been wounded terribly by a Church they trusted. The institution has demonized both groups. However, both have found the courage to reach out to each other by providing solidarity and healing—while speaking truth to power, and refusing to hide in the shadows where church officials wish they would stay. The Roman Catholic Church is bankrupt as a moral authority and its leaders have done nothing to change the clerical culture that brought it to this point.