Abuse Victims Lament Pace of Reform
S.F. Archdiocese Slow to Implement Change, They Say
By Elizabeth Fernandez firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco Chronicle
June 17, 2003
A year after embarking on a new era of openness and cooperation, the San Francisco Archdiocese is failing to appease numerous victims of clergy sexual abuse who believe the pace of change is glacial.
"It feels like I've been in a meat grinder," says Carol Mateus, 57, a Belmont resident who says she was sexually molested by a Catholic priest when she was about 19. "We have to constantly hold their feet to the fire. They've done as little as possible . . . and they did it with a bad attitude, with arrogance and dismissiveness."
But those in the church point to the many reforms taking place and argue that in any large bureaucracy, change takes time.
"When you work with a big institution, (you) have to jump through hoops to get things done. I can understand why it is too slow for them. These are things that should have been done years ago, but it is the reality of politics and the church institution," says Barbara Elordi, a licensed therapist and former nun who was retained in January to serve as pastoral assistance coordinator.
Nonetheless, Mateus and other victims believe the archdiocese is being too slow to respond to what they consider reasonable requests.
They want, for example, all local priests suspected or investigated for sexual abuse to be publicly identified, and they want parishes where priest perpetrators served to be systematically informed in order to alert other possible victims.
They want greater outreach to possible victims. Additionally, they've requested a complete financial accounting: how much was spent to settle abuse claims, how much was ordered by a court, how much was paid in undisclosed settlements and to how many?
NO MORE SECRETS
Mateus is a member of No More Secrets, a group of survivors that, since May 2002, has met monthly with members of San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada's Cabinet. She joined the group hoping to see substantive reform. It hasn't happened, says Paul Hessinger, 52, a San Francisco resident who also belongs to No More Secrets.
"In a whole year of meeting, very little productive has happened," says Hessinger, who says he was sexually abused by a priest when he was 13 and living in a small town in North Dakota. "It feels like they are throwing crumbs at us."
Yet, despite disappointment within victim circles, unmistakable change is afoot within the archdiocese, prompted by last year's charter, drafted by the nation's bishops, for the protection of children and youth.
Two special hot lines opened.
Group therapy began.
Elordi was hired to, among other tasks, work with victims and urge others to step forward. A project was launched to instruct all parents and caregivers in the archdiocese to recognize signs of sexual abuse in their children. A formal apology service was held last weekend, and a retreat for victims is set for the fall.
"I see us as having to do radical surgery with people who have been extremely hurt by the church," Elordi said.
In the wake of last year's wave of unprecedented disclosures, some feared a national nose dive in church attendance and financial contributions.
In the San Francisco Archdiocese, which represents 425,000 Catholics in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties, Mass attendance declined in about half of the 89 parishes.
Some parishes also showed a dip at the collection plate.
To the shock of many among the faithful, a handful of prominent priests in the archdiocese were implicated in sex abuse during the last year.
Most recently, the Rev. Gregory Ingels, a canon lawyer in the archdiocese was arraigned last month in Marin County Superior Court on a charge that he molested a teenage boy three decades ago. Ingels was co-author of a primer on clerical sexual misconduct issued this year by the Canon Law Society of America.
In a current issue of Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocese's publication,
Levada articulated the responsibilities of church leaders in rooting out and dealing with sexual abusers.
"What we have learned is that when a crime has been committed, it is the civil authorities who should be responsible for doing the investigation and dealing with that crime," he writes.
"I think it is necessary and something that the church and other elements of society have learned later than we should have . . . I am confident that here in the archdiocese we are implementing the requirements of the charter to protect children in the future and to make sure that the church operates in full accord with civil law and the needs of our people."
But to victims like Patrick Wilkes the archdiocese is still dragging its feet, offering lip service and token fixes.
"It's window dressing," says Wilkes, who became so discouraged by the No More Secrets sessions that he dropped out in February. Wilkes says he was abused as a child by a Unitarian minister who once had been ordained a Catholic priest.
"I have grave questions about their intentions to help survivors and to come clean."
Victims are particularly disturbed that the archdiocese rejected a proposal to add a survivor to a lay panel that reviews abuse allegations.
"It's like a star chamber," Hessinger says. "It gives the appearance of the fox guarding the henhouse."
Probably no other case more fully illustrates the frustrations and limitations of the process than that of Danielle Lacampagne, an alleged victim,
and the Rev. Daniel Carter, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Belmont.
Last spring, Lacampagne, a social worker and San Francisco resident, decided to come forward with a painful allegation involving Carter after years of silence: she contacted the archdiocese and lodged a police report accusing Carter of a sexual impropriety when she was a student at Notre Dame des Victoires elementary school more than 20 years ago.
The archdiocese followed its prescribed response by sending the complaint to its review board. The board determined that the allegation was "inconclusive," but nevertheless it recommended that Carter be placed on administrative leave. Carter opposed the leave, and he was allowed to remain in active ministry while the archdiocese considered its options and its obligations to protecting both priest and alleged victim.
Lacampagne became increasingly frustrated and, two months later, filed a civil suit. Hours later, Carter was put on leave. Not long afterward, Lacampagne withdrew her suit then refiled the complaint March 27 in San Francisco Superior Court on the heels of a new law lifting the statute of limitations for child abuse suits against institutions like the church.
Carter has repeatedly denied the allegation, has not been criminally charged and was reinstated April 1.
'LOST ALL ITS CREDIBILITY'
"After Carter was put back, the archdiocese lost all its credibility," says Terrie Light, a local spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abuse by Priests.
Lacampagne says she told the archdiocese what happened to her, but the report turned over to the San Francisco district attorney's office was factually wrong. And information she told in confidence to Auxiliary Bishop John C. Wester was reportedly used later by Carter's supporters in an attempt to discredit her, she says.
Wester says he can't discuss specific cases, but "I've never said anything, as far as I'm aware, that was inappropriate. . . . If someone brings an allegation forward, we make that allegation known."
Lacampagne, however, says she's profoundly disturbed by the archdiocese's handling of her case. "When you report sexual abuse, you're in a very vulnerable position, and they made things so much more difficult," she says. "At first, I lost a lot of sleep. Now I am numb. I'm angry, I'm disappointed. And I'm in disbelief. It feels like they are still protecting their own."
Victims' suggestions given to archbishop
-- Publish the names of removed and credibly accused priests. Post on the archdiocese's Web site the names of priests who are known child molesters -- such as those with credible reports or criminal or civil prosecutions.
-- Do outreach to find other victims by the same perpetrator through announcements in the parish bulletin and pulpit talks in the parishes where offending priests have been in residence.
-- Add a victim advocate to the review board.
-- Add a link to the SNAP Web site from the archdiocese's Web site; other victim links can be added as appropriate.
-- Publish an accounting of financial expenditures for victims.
-- Publish a clear accounting of cases brought forward: how many reports have been received, how many priests suspended, how many reports have been deemed credible, how many reports have been made to police?
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