Advocates Admonish Loyola Not to Forget Alleged Victim
Facts of Abuse Case Remain Skimpy
By Bruce Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
October 10, 2003
Two survivors of child sexual abuse asked Loyola's new president Thursday to help temper an outpouring of campus sympathy for the ousted university president, the Rev. Bernard Knoth, with a sharper concern for an anonymous former high school student whom Knoth's Jesuit superiors think he sexually abused 17 years ago.
In recent days, the university leadership has requested prayers for Knoth by name, while asking vaguely for prayers for all victims of sexual abuse, and usually not specifically for the unidentified person Knoth allegedly abused, the advocates said.
That demonstrates the kind of natural sympathy for popular priests that convinces victims of sexual abuse that they will not be believed if they tell their stories, said Lyn Hill Hayward, founder of the Louisiana chapter of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Hayward and David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, both asked the interim president, the Rev. William Byron, to help the Loyola community keep Knoth's alleged victim in mind. SNAP's Louisiana chapter asked Byron to help create a climate in New Orleans sympathetic to victims.
Since Tuesday, stunned students and faculty have been left with Knoth's absence as the only hard fact in the episode.
Knoth, who has denied the allegation, resigned Tuesday and abruptly left New Orleans after the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus announced that a church investigation found reason to believe he sexually abused a student while principal of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis in 1986.
In his first appearance on campus Tuesday, Byron expressed "deep, deep sympathy for this good man who has been accused," while more generally offering "deep sympathy for any victim of sexual abuse."
And in a campus forum Thursday, while several campus officials dwelt on a sense of acute personal loss -- even grief -- at Knoth's sudden downfall, there was only passing mention of the ordeal Knoth may have inflicted on another person.
"Of course, your first impulse is to side with a priest," said Hayward, who at 13 was sexually abused by a priest who was a friend of the family.
"He's not a dirty old man hanging around a playground. We think we can tell who these abusers are by looking, and that's not true. That's so hard for people to accept.
"Our first impulse is to be stumped, to disbelieve, because that's the easier course. It's hard to believe."
Among those who know little about sexual abuse, the upwelling of sympathy for the colleague who is known and loved tends to trump any sympathy for a distant, anonymous victim, even when the evidence indicates the accuser may be truthful, Clohessy said.
That power imbalance keeps victims suffering in silence, certain no one will believe their accusation, he said.
"Jesus would not rub salt into the already deep wounds of one who has been assaulted by a revered spiritual leader by ignoring the allegation, saying nothing but positive things about Knoth publicly, and by allowing others to do likewise," Clohessy wrote Byron, who left New Orleans after his introduction and has not yet returned to take up his duties.
"And the more prestigious, powerful and charismatic the perpetrator, the more critical that imbalance is," Clohessy said in an interview Thursday.
"There was a letter to the editor today from someone who asked why this person had waited so long to make the accusation, and the tone was kind of accusatory," Clohessy said.
"My first response is, this is exactly why -- because of this kind of reaction," he said.
Bruce Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3344.
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