Monday, September 29, 2008

Sex abuse victims respond to Bishop Braxton's hurtful letter and selfish legal maneuver

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

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




Bishop Edward K. Braxton would have the people of the Belleville, Illinois diocese accept as fact that the paying a 5 million dollar jury award in the case of the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, a known sexual predator, "would diminish diocesan resources and significantly limit the church's ability to continue to serve our people, our parishes, (and) our schools," yet no financial statements have been produced to support the bishop's claims.

What is known, however, is that the diocese is said to be earning approximately 3.5 million dollars a year in interest from investments. If true, that fact alone would go a long way in weakening the bishop's arguments.

Like the words of too many bishops, Braxton's words indicate that there is still a long way to go before the transparency and accountability promised in 2002 becomes a reality.

Not one enabling bishop or church official in the United States has been held accountable for his part in the conspiracy, collusion and cover-up in which unknown numbers of children were put in harm's way by the perverse actions of thousands of predator priests.

Even in the light of Pope Benedict XVI's words to do "all that is possible in addressing the scourge that is childhood sexual abuse," the majority of bishops, together with their State Catholic Conferences, continue to fight tooth and nail against any reformation of arbitrary statutes of limitation.

In refusing to support the complete removal of statutes of limitation, the hierarchy puts all children at risk from predators of any stripe, persuasion or religious affiliation.

Bishops like Edward Braxton, Charles Chaput of Denver, Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore, Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and John McCormack of Manchester, New Hampshire, along with many others, continue to viciously oppose the removal of arbitrary statutes of limitation which give more protection to predators than they do to the very real victims of childhood sexual abuse. Some even refuse to make public the names and present locations of known predators.

Even in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has resisted producing predator priests' files and records for many months, in direct defiance of a court order.

Such positions from the spiritual leadership of the Church is hard to reconcile with Jesus' words from St. Luke 17:2: "It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck than to face the punishment in store for harming one of these little ones."

More unworthy still is Braxton's appeal of the Illinois court's decision on the grounds that the statute of limitation has passed since it comes from one whose first and foremost responsibility is to protect the Lord's "little ones."

The institutional church’s loud protestations of commitment to victims of sexual abuse in the present offer neither absolution nor justice for the the sins and crimes of the past.

Justice and charity are what Jesus taught. He never said it was contingent on the price tag. The people of all states and religious persuasions deserve better and our churches should be leading the way, not building barriers that thwart victims' access to justice.

In Delaware on July 10, 2007 the Child Victims Law was signed. It removed all criminal and civil statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of children and included a two year window for previously time barred cases of abuse by anyone.

W. Francis Malooly, the new bishop of Wilmington, Delaware said during his Installation Mass of September 8, 2008 that, "the innocence of too many...children was stolen by the very individuals whose duty it was to safeguard and protect it."

If bishops were to follow the words of Delaware's Bishop Fran which are more reflective of the words of Pope Benedict, perhaps there would be some chance of restoring credibility to the church's leadership because without that their words are only so much, "sounding brass and tinkling cymbals" (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware

Sister Maureen is a Delaware resident and educator who has testified before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in support of the Child Victims Law, Delaware's landmark legislation. She can be reached at

ricoforkids said...

If you think for a moment that Pope Benedict is not part of the cover up, you are dead wrong. His seemingly harsh statements were well crafted as a bold move in pretending he really cares. It was enough to see his smirk as he held it in while believing everyone is now fooled while in thestadium here in the US.

He had nothing to lose, knowing that his statements would have no backlash on the church. In fact, his statements worked quite well as he expected simply because, as you can ask any catholic, it is now over. Isn't it enough the pope is mad, now get on with your life. They can say he is mad, though he really isn't, and therefor nothing else needs to be done. After all the pope did all he could. He is a very deceitful man..