Victims Group Asks Church to Reward Tipsters

By Daren Briscoe
Los Angeles Times [California]
Downloaded July 6, 2003

A group representing victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests said Saturday that California's 12 Roman Catholic bishops should offer rewards to people who report abusers within the church.

After the recent Supreme Court decision barring the prosecution of hundreds of suspected abusers, the payments would convey that the church is committed to rooting out abuses by its clergy, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

Clohessy said the group plans to hand-deliver a letter to the chancery at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels asking that a reward fund be set up. He said the group would e-mail copies to bishops statewide.

How much the rewards would be and other details have not been determined, he said, but he added that any rewards would be for information given to law enforcement officials that led to the conviction of abusers.

"Victims are terribly distraught over the court ruling, parents are worried, and something needs to be done," he said.

"Like it or not, money can sometimes be a motivator."

SNAP describes itself as an all-volunteer self-help group for people who have been victimized by clergy. Clohessy said the 13-year-old, Chicago-based organization is the nation's oldest and largest such group.

Told of the group's request for a reward fund, Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said the church has committed itself to removing any clergy member found to have abused a minor and to immediately reporting to authorities any and all allegations of sexual abuse.

"We've taken measures that are far more effective than simply throwing dollars at the problem," he said. "If law enforcement authorities want to offer money for their own purposes, that's up to them."

On June 26 in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a 1993 California law that allowed criminal charges to be brought in about 800 cases, many of them decades old, by effectively voiding the statute of limitations for some sex offenses.

California was the only state with such a law.

About 200 cases in Los Angles County were affected by the ruling, which ended prosecutions against priests who prosecutors hoped would implicate senior church officials in a cover-up.

Legal observers and victims' attorneys predicted a shift in the focus of claims against the church from criminal to civil courts. SNAP's call for a church-sponsored reward fund may suggest that the effort to secure criminal prosecutions could shift to more recent allegations of abuse.

Clohessy said "a culture of secrecy within the church that starts at the top" hampers investigations into wrongdoing by priests, and that reward money offered by the church might help undermine that culture.

More important than the amount of money offered in exchange for information about abuse, he said, is the signal a reward would send to people who withhold information out of misguided loyalty to the church.

"It would be a visible sign that it's OK, that in fact it's even Christian, to break the silence to report unknown or suspected abuse," he said.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley remains engaged in an ongoing dispute with the archdiocese over access to records that the church considers confidential. Cooley said Saturday that he would have to review SNAP's proposal before commenting, but added that carefully constructed reward funds can be "an arrow in the quiver" of law enforcement.

"Such a method to get people to give information would be in conjunction with the ongoing and continuing effort we've made to secure records that we believe are reposed with the archdiocese," he said.


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