Local Chapter Organized to Support Victims of Priests
By Kathleen Mellen
Daily Hampshire Gazette [Springfield MA]
April 1, 2003
Tuesday, April 1, 2003 -- When the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal broke in Boston just over a year ago, for many local residents the reality of that abuse seemed a world away. But, as survivors have been emboldened by the public frankness of other victims, it has become clear that the local community has not been spared. As more local victims of sexual abuse by priests have come forward, organizers of the national support and advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), have organized a local chapter of the group to address the needs of area survivors. The first meeting will be today in Springfield.
Founded in Chicago in 1989 by abuse survivor Barbara Blaine, SNAP is a self-help group for men and women sexually abused by spiritual leaders in the Catholic church.
Local coordinator Peter Pollard of Hatfield said he has been traveling to Boston for months to attend SNAP meetings. He said in an interview Friday that the group has helped him deal more effectively with his own abuse in the 1960s by his parish priest in his hometown of Marblehead.
Pollard, 51, said it became evident from those meetings that there are many other survivors living locally who, like him, have been making the trip monthly to attend the support group.
As in cities and towns across the nation, it has taken time for local victims to come forward, perhaps leaving the impression that area Catholics had escaped the abuse. But, Pollard said, 22 lawsuits have been filed by local residents, alleging sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. And, he said, he knows of six others who have notified the Springfield Diocese that they were abused by local priests.
Pollard is a former Gazette reporter who is now a social worker working with abused and neglected children. He said that like many others who have remained silent for years, he tried to ignore the impact of his own abuse, partly because he didn't know anyone else in the church who had been abused.
Groups such as SNAP, Pollard said, provide the support needed to face the torment. Clearly, he said, "there is a need for (SNAP) in this area.
A year ago Pollard filed a lawsuit against his childhood priest, a man Pollard said had been a friend and a mentor. Pollard said he has talked with other victims of the same priest, who has been on sick and administrative leave for years.
Pollard said his own story is like those of so many others who were abused - and who will now be able to share their experiences with other survivors at the area SNAP meeting.
An altar boy who considered becoming a priest himself, Pollard said he placed absolute trust in his parish priest. "It was a privilege to be considered a close friend and confidant," Pollard said. "You don't believe that someone to whom you hand over your soul might betray you."
Pollard said it has not been easy to publicly acknowledge the abuse. But, in March, buoyed by the stories of other survivors, he said he filed the civil lawsuit against the priest, and began to speak out.
"I thought (the actions) should be answerable in a court of law," he said. "I wanted to make a statement in a public way and confront them in a legal way."
Pollard said the local SNAP chapter will be able to help others sort through the effects of their own abuse, and decide whether to take legal action.
The monthly meetings are an opportunity for members to share their stories as well as to learn about resources available to the survivors, he said.
"We talk about how to approach attorneys and how to approach the offices for healing in the church," said Pollard. "We want (church officials) to support the survivors, not do things just designed to protect themselves," he said.
Pollard said the group, whose members are diverse and "at varying states of recovery," is open to everyone. "We come here out of strength, and you don't have to explain yourself - it is for healing."
For information about the time and place of the local meeting, call Pollard at 247-3271 or go to the SNAP Web site at SpringfieldSNAP@aol.com.
Kathleen Mellen can be reached at email@example.com.
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