For immediate release:
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008
Unprecedented lawsuits target Pope's US representative & USCCB; Sex abuse victims respond
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, national president member of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747)
Today is the six month anniversary of the Pope's visit to America. When the Pope was here last spring, he repeatedly brought up the church's on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis. He made some compassionate remarks. But he also issued some clear directives. One of them still rings in our ears. The full church, but especially bishops, he said, should "do everything possible" to help victims heal.
That's a direct quote: "do everything possible" to help victims heal.
American bishops either weren't listening or don't care what the Pope says. Because over the past six months, we've seen virtually no change in bishops' behavior and no additional efforts to help victims heal.
In fact, in the legal arena, we've seen more aggressive efforts to dodge blame, avoid accountability, and attack victims, rather than help victims.
We're troubled, for example, by what we saw last week in Davenport Iowa. A bankruptcy trustee took unprecedented legal action that may force top Catholic officials to return more than $200,000 to this country.
Lawsuits filed late last week charge that money was perhaps improperly sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican's US representative. The Davenport diocese made the payments in the fall of 2006 leading up to its bankruptcy filing stemming from more than 100 clergy sex abuse and cover up lawsuits.
Church officials have two choices. They can do what bishops have historically and consistently done – further delay healing, hire more lawyers, spend more money and fight this move. Or they can obey the Pope, chart a new course, and voluntarily return the disputed funds now, instead of waiting to do so when ordered by a judge.
The first course guarantees more resentment and suspicion and wasted money, (money donated by generous parishioners). The second course guarantees more healing and confidence and faith in the church hierarchy.
Besides, who needs and deserves those funds more? Distraught and wounded Iowa Catholics? Distraught and wounded Iowa victims? Or high level church bureaucrats? We submit the first two groups are hurting because of the misdeeds of the last group. Catholics and victims need consideration and relief, while high level church bureaucrats need to honor the Pope's wishes.
We're not bankruptcy lawyers or financial experts. We don't know whether these payments were fraudulent or deceptive or illegal. That's for the court to determine.
Here's what we DO know:
- We know that Davenport church authorities have long been deceptive regarding child sex abuse cases and cover ups.
- We know that other US bishops have been accused of steps to hide and protect financial assets, instead of vulnerable children (most notably San Diego and Spokane).
- We know that appearances matter, and that when top church officials hire expensive lawyers to help them exploit every available legal loophole to escape accountability and transparency and responsibility for horrific crimes, it's disillusioning to Catholics and hurtful to victims.
"Doing everything possible" to help victims doesn't mean launching or prolonging hard ball legal struggles. It doesn't mean ducking and dodging responsibility. It doesn't mean scheming to out-fox judges and court officials. It doesn't mean feigning poverty when victims seek justice.
We implore US bishops, especially Davenport's bishop, to search their consciences, reflect on the Pope's words, voluntarily move forward toward justice, healing and prevention, instead of being forced – by persistent victims, frustrated prosecutors, irritated judges and outraged Catholics – to do what's right.
(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 19 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)
David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259) Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688), Mary Grant (626-419-2930), Mark Serrano (703-727-4940)