Priest-Abuse Network Getting Response
But Church Rebuffs Publicity Request by New SNAP Chapter
The Day [Connecticut]
Downloaded April 12, 2004
Since it was founded just over six weeks ago, the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests has signed up 40 members and there are requests from across the state for the chapter to host more meetings, according to the chapter's director.
“It's sad,” said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, director of the SNAP chapter, “but we're growing.”
The demand, she said, is so extensive that “it took me over 72 hours to return all the e-mails I received after we announced our presence in Connecticut.”
The chapter, which conducts one meeting a month in Bridgeport, is adding a second meeting in Hartford and hopes to have a regular meeting in the area of the Norwich Diocese later in the year, she said.
Mauriello-Vernon said she thinks the growing interest springs from the fact that even though dioceses are saying they offer counseling for victims, the last place many victims would turn for help is the church.
“You wouldn't ask a victim of rape to go to the rapist's family and say, ‘Please help me,' ” she said. “Church leaders have a vested interest in protecting their own.”
SNAP is a self-described “volunteer self-help organization of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters” founded in 1989. The organization sets up meetings of self-help groups where victims can tell their stories and learn of ways and places to get counseling or other help.
Even church officials have recognized the reluctance of victims to turn to the church they feel betrayed them.
“What we know about people that are violated is that they're very angry, and often they're very angry with the church,” said Jacqueline Keller, spokeswoman for the Norwich Diocese, which covers much of eastern Connecticut. “And because the assistance coordinator is from the church, they can be very angry with that person.”
For that very reason, Mauriello-Vernon said, the church should be supporting SNAP.
“If you go on SNAP's Web site, our mission statement is clear,” she said. “We're here to support survivors. Every bishop in this country should approach SNAP with open arms, because all we want to do is help ourselves and prevent any further abuse from happening.”
Mauriello-Vernon asked the church leaders of the state's three Catholic dioceses to publish a notice of the chapter's foundation in church bulletins, but she has been met with rejection.
Norwich Bishop Michael Cote responded in writing, saying, “Since assistance is provided by the diocese to victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy on a confidential and individual basis using experts in this field with whom we are familiar, I believe that any public announcement about SNAP in church or parish publications would be construed as an endorsement of a program with whose effectiveness we are unfamiliar.”
Keller said the diocese offers assistance to victims through an assistance coordinator.
“If the person comes to the diocese, they are asked if they want assistance,” she said. “If they do, they talk to the assistance coordinator, and she will suggest some different agencies or psychologists they might want to use. Or they could even use her as a counselor. It's up to them.
“The biggest point is that they get some help if they need it.”
Keller said she could not say how many victims the diocese was helping.
Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford responded to SNAP: “The Archdiocese of Hartford has engaged in an extensive outreach counseling and pastoral care to persons who have experienced the betrayal of trust by those responsible for their spiritual care.
“Fostering the healing of such persons is no insignificant matter requiring credentialed caregivers whom we have engaged. A generalized endorsement of any organization which your requested bulletin announcement would indicate is not consistent with our responsible approach to addressing the individualized needs of the people we serve.”
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza added, “Thank you for your letter. I will keep you in my prayers.”
Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Basil Losten of Stamford responded, “It is my firm belief that a new chapter of your organization is not needed in our state at this time. The adversarial atmosphere that currently exists is not conducive to healing.”
Bridgeport Bishop William Lori did not respond.
Persons interested in reaching SNAP can call Mauriello-Vernon at 203-687-8072 or e-mail her at Lmv125@comcast.net.