SNAP Spreads across Tennessee

By Woody Baird
The Associated Press
September 1, 2004

MEMPHIS The Roman Catholic bishop for West Tennessee was urged Tuesday to help search for victims of sexually abusive priests.

Bishop Terry Steib also was asked to preach to parishioners that turning in abusive priests is the morally right thing to do.

The requests came from Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which announced it is spreading across the state by forming a West Tennessee chapter.

SNAP, as the group calls itself, provides self-help counseling for abuse victims, many of whom are adults dealing with childhood assaults.

"We'd like the bishop to help us spread the word," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, Mo., SNAP's national director. "We've found it is very healing for victims to talk with other people who have been hurt in the same way."

SNAP wants Steib to use church bulletins, personal addresses, the diocese Web site and the news media to urge abuse victims to seek help.

Victims often keep their suffering to themselves because of embarrassment or confusion over loyalties to the church, according to Clohessy, who said he was an abuse victim as a young teenager.

SNAP, based in Chicago, has its state headquarters in Knoxville and a chapter in Middle Tennessee.

Clohessy said SNAP is working with several sex abuse victims in West Tennessee, whose names he did not disclose, to set up the new support group.

"We believe, and know in fact, that there are victims here in the Memphis area who have never yet come forward but can start to recover from this trauma by sitting down with other people who are walking the same painful path," he said.

Clohessy and SNAP members Susan Vance of Oak Ridge and Ann Brentwood of Maryville went to Steib's office in hopes of meeting with him, but the bishop was out of town.

They left a letter urging Steib to tell parishioners it is their duty to report abusive priests.

Church spokesman John Morris said he would give the letter to Steib. Morris declined to discuss SNAP's request and referred questions to the Rev. John Geaney. Calls to his office were not immediately returned.

Vance said church leaders in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, have refused to give a total picture of "creditable allegations" of sex abuse by priests in Tennessee.

"Many of these victims have left the church but there are victims in pews every Sunday," she said. "They are in pain and do not know what to do. We want the church to reach out to them."

Nationally, the Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of disclosures of sex abuse by priests.

A priest who formerly taught high school in Memphis was recently accused in a lawsuit by two former students, now in their late 30s, of sexually abusing them almost 25 years ago.

Another suit filed in August accuses a former Memphis priest of abusing a 14-year-old boy in 2000. That suit contends the priest was moved to another state to avoid a scandal.

The Diocese of Knoxville drew criticism recently for refusing to remove from church buildings pictures of a former priest who has acknowledged sex abuse, and the Nashville diocese removed two priests because of sexual abuse in 1989.

The Diocese of Memphis was listed in January among 20 dioceses across the country that were behind schedule in setting up administrative procedures required by church polities adopted in 2002 to prevent sex abuse by priests.

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