Diocese Claims Leadership Role
Group Urges Snap Decision Priest Abuse Survivors Counseled to Speak up

By Bill Cummings
Connecticut Post [Bridgeport CT]
Downladed September 24, 2003

BRIDGEPORT - A national group that counsels victims of sexual abuse by priests Monday urged those who have remained silent to speak out and seek help.

Members of SNAP Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests distributed leaflets to Catholics leaving noon Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral.

"We just want to get the word out and encourage people to break the silence," said David Clohessy, the group's national director.

While SNAP officials encountered few parishioners a handful slipped out a side door while members waited on the sidewalk in front of the church the group did get the attention of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport and the region's media.

The diocese dispatched its spokesman and several workers, armed with press releases. Three television stations and several print reporters were on hand. The media contingent outnumbered the half-dozen or so people at the Mass.

One worshipper, when asked what she thought of all the fuss after SNAP members handed her a leaflet, dismissed the effort.

"There is nothing to do about this," she said, referring to abuse.

The leaflets, mostly left on car windshields, explained SNAP's mission, which is to help victims deal with the aftereffects of abuse by a priest.

"When abuse victims stay quiet, molesters go undetected and children are at risk. So we urge anyone who may have been hurt to come forward, report the crimes and begin to heal," states a leaflet.

"The best part of SNAP is the support," said Tom Bara, its treasurer and a victim of priest abuse as a child. He is now a Baptist. "Others tell you their stories and you realize you are not alone."

SNAP members mostly avoided criticizing the diocese, which, like its counterparts nationwide, is the target of dozens of lawsuits alleging past abuse.

They did complain, however, that the church refuses to list the organization in publications and on bulletin boards, and said the Bridgeport diocese refuses to disclose all it knows about abuse by clergy.

Another group of Catholics, Voice of the Faithful, which has a chapter in Norwalk, has made similar complaints about priest abuse. SNAP has a "couple of dozen" members in Connecticut, and is planning a local chapter, Clohessy said.

"Members of the church are concerned about abuse and the coverup by our bishops," said Joseph O'Callaghan, a state spokesman for Voice of the Faithful.

Clohessy said there are many victims of abuse who have not come forward. He said that every time the group visits an area, it receives calls from victims who want to talk.

Diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said the Bridgeport church is a leader in the effort to root out abuse.

Still, McAleer said groups such as Voice of the Faithful are not welcome to speak out in church publications because members take positions on issues that are not up for discussion, such as celibacy, women in the priesthood and allowing priests to marry.

"Our record is one of transparency and swift reaction to allegations of abuse," McAleer said. "Bishop [William E.] Lori is a pioneer in increasing awareness of this.

"We are training our 30,000 employees in the warning signs of abuse, and that includes reporting it immediately to authorities. We are open and direct about this."

After listening to McAleer's remarks, Clohessy said the Catholic church continues to send out a clear signal regarding priest abuse.

"The signal is 'hush, hush.' But now is not the time to be complacent, or pat ourselves on the back," Clohessy said.

SNAP can be contacted at 314-566-9790 or 312-409-2720.

Bill Cummings, who covers regional issues, can be reached at 330-6230.

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.