Editorial Page
Making a SNAP Decision

Hampden Journal [Connecticut]
February 18, 2004

News that a support group for survivors of sexual assault by clergy has formed in Hamden will surprise some residents. But Hamden is not immune to national events. In many ways, the town is a perfect cross-section of the larger society, with all its good and bad aspects.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) claims to be the nation's largest self-help group for those abused by clergy. The Chicago-based group says it has 4,600 members.

The group's Connecticut founder, Landa Mauriello-Vernon, is a Hamden resident who filed suit last year against Sacred Heart Academy, Sister Linda Cusano and the religious order that runs the school, claiming Cusano sexually assaulted her during the 1991-92 school year.

We think such a support group is a good idea and a positive development for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of religious figures. Support groups enable their members to share their experiences and draw strength from their common experience. Such groups also provide a network of confidantes for those times when only someone who has suffered similarly can help.

However, we worry about people's natural tendency to paint all members of a particular group with a broad brush when a relative few in that group are guilty of wrongdoing.

Clergy members, by nature of their position in society, should represent that which is good and holy. Therefore, their misdeeds become front-page news, especially when those misdeeds involve abuse of children or other vulnerable people. In that vein, Mauriello-Vernon's press conference last week attracted considerable attention. Like priests, nuns are considered religious, highly moral people. We show them more respect than we might show the average person. That's why allegations of sexual abuse against a nun are so troublesome.

For years, we've been hearing about allegations of sexual abuse against priests in the Bridgeport Diocese, to the point that one could almost wonder how rampant this deviancy was. Just this week we got our answer: the Bridgeport Diocese released figures from an independent report that detailed sex abuse allegations against 32 priests in the last 50 years. During that same time, 1,279 priests served in the diocese. Thus we see that less than 3 percent of Fairfield County clergy were involved in these allegations.

True, the Catholic Church has been less than forthcoming about abuse allegations. And we assert that 32 incidents is 32 too many.

But the main point is, for a time it seemed all priests were subject to suspicion (guilt by association), especially as more and more people came forward with allegations, and evidence appeared to show that former bishops knew about the abuse and covered it up. Yet the overwhelming majority of priests were innocent of such perversion.

We are saddened whenever we hear such allegations, but we urge residents to keep in mind that violations that may have been committed by one priest or one nun does not mean all priests or nuns - or an entire school - should be subject to suspicion.