Snap Spokesman Cautiously Optimistic about Outreach to Victims
Spiritual Struggles of Victims-Survivors Need Attention, Says Isely

By Sam Lucero
Catholic Herald
Downloaded November 17, 2003

MILWAUKEE — One of the most vocal critics of the Milwaukee Archdiocese's pastoral mediation process for victims-survivors of clergy sexual abuse is cautiously optimistic about Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan's plans to revise outreach efforts to abuse victims.

Peter Isely, regional coordinator of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said Archbishop Dolan's decision to create a new dispute resolution system was a welcome move. However, he is concerned the program director has ties to a Catholic institution.

In his Herald of Hope column Nov. 6, Archbishop Dolan announced that he has appointed Eva Soeka, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution Education at Jesuit-run Marquette University, to design a dispute resolution system to handle cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Soeka received her law degree from Marquette and serves as associate professor of law at Marquette's School of Law. She will take on her new duties as part of her private work, said Archbishop Dolan, not in conjunction with her duties at Marquette.

"Selecting someone from Marquette — and I don't know this person so I can't speak about her — without consulting victims automatically puts that person in a more difficult situation than that person needs to be in right now,” Isely told the Catholic Herald. "The plan is kind of in the making right now so it's almost impossible to comment on until it's actually there. The fact that (the archdiocese sees the need for) a new plan is good and positive.”

Archbishop Dolan stated that Soeka will soon begin working on the dispute resolution system and details should be made public in January 2004.

In his column, the archbishop admitted that while about 10 victims-survivors have taken advantage of the pastoral mediation program established by the archdiocese last January, "not everyone has been accepting of this process (because) some victims-survivors tell me they are not comfortable approaching the church for help....”

"I hope 'outsourcing' this important process will provide both accountability and credibility, and make it less painful for victims-survivors,” added Archbishop Dolan.

Isely also commented on other issues addressed in Archbishop Dolan's column. He supports creating a $4 million restitution fund for victims, as well as releasing the names of all living priest-offenders, although this does not address the inactions of "senior management” who did not act to immediately remove the offenders, he said. But it was the spiritual struggle of victims-survivors that Isely said needs attention.

"I think that the spiritual aspect of this has been the biggest problem that is least addressed,” said Isely "The spiritual struggle and problems of victims and their relationship with the church. I would be very disappointed in this process if Catholics and priests don't feel a sense of reconciliation and feel good about it.”

Isely said many victims-survivors and their families "desperately desire to feel a part of the church.” But because they have criticized the church's handling of the sexual abuse crisis, they believe some Catholics feel "that they are somehow the enemy of the church.”

"I really want people who are victims, who still have their faith in the Catholic Church, to be able to return to the sacraments ... to be part of the community,” said Isely.

The SNAP spokesman said he would like victims-survivors and archdiocesan priests to come together and talk about their experiences relating to the sexual abuse crisis.

"I think that victims would really welcome an opportunity to be in conversation with priests directly,” he said. "We've had almost no opportunity to have them sit down with us, be face to face with us, and say, 'This is what it's been like for us.' To let them know our appreciation for those who have been quietly working with survivors and their families.”

Such a gathering would also give victims-survivors a chance to tell priests "that we don't have a problem with the priesthood,” said Isely. "It's never been about our problem with the priesthood. We have a problem with the way things are structured institutionally, some of the things in canon law that make it difficult to do something about sex offenders.”

He added that the laity will help mend the wounds that exist today between victims-survivors and the institutional church. "If it was up to Catholics as a community, this (scandal) would have been resolved a long time ago.”

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