Church Abuse Group Offers Healing Ideas to Pilla

By Brian E. Albrecht
Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH]
September 16, 2004

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests urged the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to place greater reliance on victims and outside law enforcement in combating sex abuse.

In a letter delivered by David Clohessy, SNAP executive director, to diocese offices after a news conference Wednesday, the national support group for abuse victims asked Bishop Anthony Pilla to "take three simple steps to make your diocese safer and to help victims heal."

SNAP asked that the state abuse hotline phone number and those of similar local law enforcement resources be posted in every church and parochial school in the eight-county diocese and that those numbers also be listed on the diocese's Web site, in its weekly newspaper and other publications.

Clohessy said posting those numbers and making law-enforcement the first contact in abuse investigations would provide more openness, objectivity and experience than the church alone can offer in handling such matters.

"This, frankly, is one of the reasons literally tens of thousands of Catholic youngsters have been molested by thousands of abusive clerics the temptation and tendency to keep reports of such crimes in house,' " Clohessy said in the letter.

SNAP also asked that a group member be appointed to the diocese's abuse review board, to give victims more confidence in reporting abuse.

SNAP's third request was that the diocese solicit testimony from abuse victims and witnesses for a visit later this month by auditors of the U.S. Conference of Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. The auditors will be examining the diocese's policies and procedures for handling sex abuse.

At least 15 priests in the diocese, which has about 800,000 Catholics and 340 priests, have been suspended over abuse allegations since 2002, the Associated Press reported.

Diocese spokesman Robert Tayek said the upcoming auditors' visit is intended to examine how the church deals with abuse cases, not solicit new ones.

In response to SNAP's request for representation on the diocese abuse review board, Tayak said a victim is already one of the board's 11 members. As for SNAP's suggestion to publicize outside abuse-resource numbers, Tayek said diocese hotline and e-mail numbers for reporting abuse are posted in all churches and schools.

He also noted that wallet cards listing community abuse-resource numbers are distributed to priests, school administrators, teachers, volunteers and other youth leaders.

Tayek said that under diocese policy, all abuse reports made to the church are forwarded to the appropriate county children's and family services agency.

However, Susan a local former abuse victim who did not want her last name used lent her support to the SNAP news conference, saying the diocese could do more.

"It's like a wound," she said.

"If you don't really clean it out, it's going to continue to fester, and I don't think the church has gotten to the base of this problem yet."


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