Sunday, August 17, 2003

Survivors network: It's time to get an accounting

Pilarcyzk should urge disclosure

David Clohessy is the national director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Clohessy said a priest molested him and his brothers as children, and that one of his brothers grew up to become a priest who is also a sexual abuser. He sat down with the editorial board to discuss the future of SNAP and the role it can play in helping victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

The following are excerpts of that interview:

What is SNAP?

We are a 13-year-old, 4,600-member support group for men and women who have victimized by clergy. Probably 98 percent of our members are abuse victims, men and women, probably 90 percent of them were molested by Catholic clergy. Probably 95 percent of our members were abused as children. We're modeled 95 percent after Alcoholics Anonymous and 5 percent Mothers Against Drunk Driving. That doesn't especially jibe with our image, because the 5 percent is what's generally considered newsworthy.

First and foremost we provide and independent, confidential safe place where you can pour your heart out and know you'll be believed and be listened to by someone who has been through the same trauma, the same emotional ups and downs.

Is there one set of answers or do you tailor the answers to the situation?

There are two general answers. We tell people you've got to talk about it. If you sit on the pain, it just eats away at you and then you are 55 years old wonder why you've never been able to have a relationship, or you're 60 years old and you're wondering why you are in drug rehab for the fourth time, or you're arrested by the cops for your seventh bar fight.

We do increasingly tell people you've got to report it to civil authorities. It's just unrealistic and, in fact, dangerous to expect any institution, no matter how well intentioned, to police themselves.

We definitely counsel people against one-on-one confrontations with the perpetrator.

Do you think the Catholic Church is trustworthy on this issue?

So many of the reforms that we have seen have been belated, begrudging, piecemeal. And so it's hard to be optimistic. Let's assume that the problem with abuse is that the bishop didn't understand - you know that's kind of their line of defense. Even if that's the case, I really think that prudence dictates that we not allow kids to be at risk while we allow bishops to get up to speed. I don't mean to deny that progress has been made, but fundamentally it seems like the same basic M.O. is still largely in place.

Does SNAP play a role in helping victims of abuse remain faithful to the church?

We don't take a position. We have ground rules on meetings and we don't specifically talk about a higher power. We want to be safe place for every single abuse victim - the most flaming, hardcore atheist who thinks this is all a sham and the Catholics, who literally really pray the Rosary every day.

Are most of the victims sexual of abuse you see in your group men?

There is literally half and half in our group. I think men generally tend to direct their anger and pain outward. And so men are more apt to speak publicly, men are more apt to file a lawsuit. More women, at least in our group, tend to express their pain and their anger and their hurt inwardly, so if we have a disproportionate come to our meetings. There is a real misperception that abuse has to do with homosexuality, and I'm absolutely convinced that it doesn't. If here are, in fact, more male victims of abuse, I think it's probably a question of access. Now I do think there are a disproportionate number of priests who are gay, and I think that slightly contributes to the overall problem, because essentially no priest is permitted to have sex. So any priest who is involved sexually - gay, straight, whatever - has a secret to keep.

Some people say celibacy is part of the problem and I say "Yeah, but maybe not the way you think." The ban on having sex doesn't cause people to go after kids; what it causes people to do is not speak up when they see or suspect one of their colleagues is involved in sexual activity.

How do you feel the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has handled the case regarding former Elder principal Father Lawrence Srittmatter?

It seems like (Archbishop Daniel) Pilarczyk is kind of the classical example of what we call the bare-minimum bishop. He'll disclose a little bit of information when he absolutely has to, he'll remove a perpetrator when he absolutely has to. He has not defrocked (Strittmatter). He has not said to people, "He's really not coming back." He has not reached out to people.

The logical, rational, pastoral thing for him to do is to write to former students who were there (during Strittmatter's tenure) and say it's your Christian duty, if you were hurt to pick up the phone and call (Hamilton County Prosecutor) Mike Allen, it's your Christian duty to reach duty reach out to your classmates and former classmates and ask them if they were hurt and tell them that help is available.

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