Sex-Abusing Priests Issue Still Smoldering

Connecticut Post [Connecticut]
Downloaded March 7, 2004

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness . . . .

Jude 1:4

"Let's face it, the cover-up is as much a crime as the abuse," the young mother said matter of factly as she entertained her active, smiling nine-month-old son with a toy.

Landa Mauriello-Vernon wanted to talk about recent actions by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the ongoing child molestation scandal.

She is the Connecticut director of SNAP, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

She would not talk about her suit alleging sexual assault by a nun while she attended Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden.

Mauriello-Vernon, now 30, married and the mother of two, said she grew up in West Haven in a devoutly Catholic family. She said she sued and took on the danger of controversy for one reason.

"I want to raise my children in traditions I was raised in, but I still cannot," she said, responding to the bishops' report on abuse and John Jay College of Law survey released Feb. 27.

"It bothers me that I cannot go to church and feel safe; that I can't feel my children are safe.

"I don't think I've lost faith," she said, repeating anguished words uttered in one way or another by every victim.

"I wake up every morning and look at my children and see God in their faces," she added, choking up for a moment and closing her eyes.

She said she believes the vast majority of priests and nuns probably are good people called to serve God, "but how do you know which ones are just hiding in the church?"

Until she knows, she said, she cannot gamble with the safety of her children. "It's not until every child is protected and every victim has the help they need and a place to go."

She said recent efforts by church leaders do not reassure her.

"Who is cross-checking that? Who is making sure they are telling us the truth?

"Just because you call it an audit does not make it one. Just because you call it an investigation does not mean it's an investigation.

"People forget that this is a criminal issue," she said.

"These (bishops) are the same men who protected abusers for decades, moving them from parish to parish, giving them new victims."

She said if any other organization had committed such crimes and covered them up, "people would take to the streets" in protest.

The leaders certainly would be in prison.

Church leaders "knew exactly what they were doing," she said, and "these are still the men in power.

"That's not what separation of church and state means

that they can get away with crimes," she said.

The bishops "are trying to say this is over. It's not over," Mauriello-Vernon said.

"In six weeks (since forming the SNAP chapter) I've gotten 32 members; 32 different stories with the same underlying theme."

She believes there are thousands of victims who are afraid to come forward because of embarrassment and the vicious brutality of official church response.

Church leaders now say their responses to victims "caused enormous pain, anger and confusion."

They confess they destroyed and secreted documents about felonies.

They admit to obstructing justice and allowing criminals to strike again and again.

They acknowledge they loosed known sexual predators from the church onto society without notifying authorities or doing anything else to prevent future attacks.

Those predators still are out there. That crime is ongoing.

Nothing in the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People summary report clearly instructs victims to call police directly instead of the church.

"It's like telling a rape victim to go to the rapist's family for help," Mauriello-Vernon said.

The sad fact is, our justice system still is being bypassed. The assurance of safety citizens and society as a whole derive from police investigations and criminal trials is not part of this process.

The leaders who committed these crimes remain in power instead of prison only because prosecutors claim the statute of limitations ran out.

That leaves our nation wondering if recent actions by the church

reluctantly taken only after forced by decades of civil suits

are real, or are they merely another level of deception.

Frank J. Keegan is the editor of the Connecticut Post. You may reach him at 330-6325 or by e-mail at


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