For immediate release: Monday, Sept. 29, 2008
Sex abuse victims respond to Bishop Braxton's hurtful letter and selfish legal maneuver
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915 home)
If Bishop Braxton truly wants to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable, he should take three immediate steps.
First, he should immediately and publicly apologize to Jim Wisniewski. In a letter sent to southern Illinois parishes this weekend, Braxton called Jim "an alleged victim." This is wrong, hurtful and intimidating.
It's wrong because Jim is NOT an alleged victim. An impartial jury heard the evidence, and found that he WAS molested by Fr. Raymond Kownacki. Furthermore, Catholic officials never even disputed this.
It's hurtful because what many victims want and need most is validation – they need to be assured that people believe them and understand that their suffering is severe. To call a proven victim an alleged victim is to minimize the devastating that Jim has endured and the pain that he is enduring.
Finally, it's intimidating because other victims may well be tempted to keep silent in the face of this harshness and insensitivity. "Why bother speaking up and exposing my predator?" a victim might ask. "Even if a jury finds that my abuse happened, church officials will still doubt me and use words like 'alleged.'"
In the spring, during his US visit, Pope Benedict couldn't have been more clear. Catholics should "do everything possible" to heal the wounds cause by clergy sexual abuse. Braxton, instead, is exacerbating those wounds. He should apologize.
Second, Braxton should 'come clean' about diocesan finances. He can't have his cake and eat it too, claiming the verdict will harm his diocese while offering not a shred of evidence. Maybe years ago, parishioners and the public took a bishop at his word on such matters, but no more. In fact, it's prudent to assume Braxton is not being honest here, because he's been dishonest about so much – his improper spending and Fr. Real Bourque, to cite just two examples. It also important to remember that diocesan staff said under oath that the diocese earns more than 3.5 million each year just on interest alone. That simple fact shows Braxton's being deceptive when he feigns 'poverty.'
Finally, Braxton should sit down with us before he take the final step of formally appealing this verdict.
We in SNAP asked to meet with Braxton 2.5 years ago. We never even got the courtesy of a reply. We are renewing our request to meet with him for several reasons.
First, we aren't sure he's even ever talked with one abuse victim.
Second, his diocese faces a $5 million dollar jury verdict precisely because bishops like him have distanced themselves from victims like us. They've shunned, us, rebuffed us, ignored us, and 'delegated' us to their underlings. (We aren't confident that bishops meeting with victims will make a difference. We are, however, confident that something must change, and that bishops hiding behind their desks, 'busy schedules,' lawyers and public relations staff is NOT working.)
Third, we feel duty bound to do everything we can to spare Jim and his family more pain. They are heroes. They have suffered enough. If, on the slim chance we might be able to get through to Braxton, we might persuade him to do anything to reduce this brave family's agony, or stop adding to it, we feel we have an obligation to try.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 17 years and have more than 8,000 members across the country. 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 SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact -- David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747),
Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Coordinator (314) 862 7688