Panel: New Report Will Show More Conn. Priests Caught up in Sex Abuse Scandal

Newday [East Lyme CT]
February 9, 2004

EAST LYME, Conn. -- The audience at a panel discussion on sexual abuse by clergy were told Sunday that the scandal in Connecticut and the country will expand vastly when a new national survey is released later this month.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City is releasing the results of a survey Feb. 27 on the number of known or suspected sex abusers since 1950. The college surveyed all American Roman Catholic dioceses for the report, which will be released by U.S. Catholic bishops.

The eastern Connecticut chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national church reform group that organized Sunday's panel discussion at the Days Inn, predicted the new numbers will be shocking, The Day of New London reported.

"You're about to learn that hundreds of priests have found safe harbor" in Connecticut, said Anne Barrett-Doyle, a member of Voice of the Faithful's national voting council. She has worked with abuse victims through an advocacy group she helped found called Coalition of Catholics and Survivors.

Over the past decade in Connecticut, 47 priests, one nun and one seminarian have been accused of sexual abuse charges, according to a national VOTF database.

Some people at Sunday's discussion, which included sex abuse victims, cautioned that the report will contain only allegations, and priests should be considered innocent unless they are found guilty.

"Catholics in general don't want to hear stories of abuse. They're in denial," said the Rev. Robert Hoatson, a New Jersey chaplain who was in the audience Sunday.

A former victim of clergy sexual abuse, he said, he is the coordinator for the central New Jersey chapter of the national Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Some panelists said the majority of Catholics seem indifferent to victims' plight. They said the focus has shifted away from the victim and onto counseling abusive priests and reforming the church.

Both are important, the panelists said, but they should be secondary to helping victims and preventing further abuse of children at the hands of clergy.

While the U.S. Catholic bishops have enacted a zero-tolerance policy, in the 1990s some dioceses transferred known sex offenders to other dioceses.

Panelist Susan Gallagher, a professor of gender studies at the University of Massachusetts, said the priest who molested her and her brother was sent to work at a children's camp in New Jersey after being treated in 1995 for pedophilia.

The panel encouraged the audience of about 90 people, mostly Catholics, to get involved with efforts to identify pedophile priests.

David Cerulli, a panelist who said he was raped and sodomized by a priest in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., when he was 14, told Catholics to demand that bishops publicize the names of known sex offenders in their dioceses.

The panel also urged the audience to lobby state lawmakers and government officials for change in the way clergy sexual abuse cases are handled. "If you're raped," Gallagher said, "don't call the bishop, call the police. If you want to help, go outside the church. This is not a Catholic problem. We need all denominations. It's a social problem, a justice problem."


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