Latino's Comments Upset Group
National Director Asks for Bishop to Be Held Accountable for Remarks

By Matt Volz
Clarion-Ledger [Jackson MS]
September 9, 2003

A victims' support group is calling on the head of the country's Catholic leaders to denounce comments by Bishop Joseph Latino that suggested the group may be harming sex abuse victims by putting them in the spotlight.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, asked Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to condemn the remarks of Latino, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.

Latino told The Associated Press in August he wondered whether the publicity of the church scandal brought by SNAP and the media had further harmed sex abuse victims.

"I wonder sometimes if the victims aren't being made victims again by SNAP and the press," Latino said at the time.

Also in August, Latino said that a public apology to victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy was neither necessary nor "legitimate."

However, in last week's edition of Mississippi Catholic, the diocese's newspaper, Latino offered a personal apology and a pledge for the future.

"I join my brother bishops in making a public apology to all victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Jackson diocese. I take responsibility for dealing with the problem strongly, consistently and effectively in the future. From the depth of my heart, I express great sorrow and profound regret for what Catholic people are enduring. The damage caused by sexual abuse of minors is devastating and long lasting," Latino wrote.

Latino, a New Orleans native, assumed his position earlier this year.

Clohessy, himself a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, called Latino's remarks concerning SNAP "callous."

"We think that Latino's comments were at best ill-advised and at worst downright hurtful to survivors," Clohessy said. "We would like to see Bishop Gregory exercise his leadership and prompt Bishop Latino to rescind those comments and apologize for them."

Clohessy wrote Gregory a letter requesting a public condemnation. He said in the letter that Latino's remarks took the same "blame the victim" attitude that has enabled the continued abuse of victims.

"From my perspective, it certainly seems as though he wants to deter molestation victims from coming forward and getting the help they need ... from perhaps the best possible source: Others who have walked in their shoes and want to reach out and empathize," the letter read.

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, communications director for the conference of bishops, said he believed "that is a matter between SNAP and Bishop Latino directly, and (Gregory) would not intervene."

Gregory was traveling Friday and was not available for comment, Maniscalco said. Latino said he had no comment, but would respond to SNAP or the conference of bishops if contacted directly.

SNAP's Mississippi chapter says about 20 people are involved in eight sex abuse lawsuits against the Jackson diocese. One case was scheduled to go to trial last month, but was delayed while the Mississippi Supreme Court considers a motion by the diocese to dismiss the lawsuit.

The diocese is completing a "zero-tolerance" policy to handle claims of sex abuse. The policy is based on the charter written last year by the conference of bishops and would replace the one in place since 1994.

Clohessy said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to the new policies being formed in dioceses across the country.

"If we allow these guys to make another round of vague promises and don't monitor their behavior ... a decade from now we will see another clergy sex abuse scandal," Clohessy said.


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