Sex Abuse Victims Endorse Bishop for National Presidency

SNAP [United States]
November 11, 2004

For First Time, Support Group Weighs in on Prelates' Candidacies
They Nix Nine Others, Based on "Unresponsiveness and Insensitivity"
SNAP Invites All Ten To Meet With Them Sunday in Washington

For the first time in its 14 year history, a support group for clergy sex abuse victims is endorsing a candidate for president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are inviting all ten candidates to meet with them Sunday night in Washington DC, on the eve of the national bishops meeting.

The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, is backing Rapid City Bishop Blase J. Cupich in his bid to head America's Catholic prelates.

"Frankly, we know little about him," acknowledges SNAP president Barbara Blaine of Chicago. "But the other candidates have each been repeatedly unresponsive or insensitive to victims."

In alphabetical order, the candidates for president are: Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB; Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFMCap; Rapid City Bishop Blase J. Cupich; Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan; Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI; Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas; San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada; Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin F. Rigali; Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad; and Pittsburgh Bishop Donald W. Wuerl.

"We feel it's our duty to speak up and share what we know about these men," said Mary Grant of Long Beach, California. "At this point, Catholics deserve a leader they can have some faith in, but most of these men come with considerable baggage of cover up."

The group especially objects to Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, who is considered the "front runner" for the presidency.

"Skylstad has a long and painful record of covering up abuse and claiming to remember nothing," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's national director. "Among all the candidates, his deceit is perhaps the most extensively documented. If Skylstad is chosen, it will be a 'green light' to other backsliding bishops."

SNAP also objects to Skylstad's threats, made yesterday, to declare bankruptcy later this month.

Local SNAP chapters in Tucson and Milwaukee have already publicly announced their opposition to their respective bishops being elevated to higher offices within the bishops' conference.

A group of priests in Cupich's diocese started the Lazarus Fund, donating part of their salaries to abuse victims.

Of the ten candidates, only two - Dolan and Kicanas - have publicly listed the names of known and suspected abusive clergy, but only after considerable public pressure. Dolan kept the list on his diocesan web site for just a few weeks and Kicanas is posting the list as part of the requirements of bankruptcy proceedings.

"But for the most part, none of these men have distinguished themselves with respect to victims," said Clohessy. "Each has taken a narrow, legalistic and self-serving view of the Dallas Charter and has essentially done the bare minimum steps that bishops belatedly and begrudging adopted in the face of tremendous scandal."

SNAP is sending invitations today to all ten candidates to come to a "frank discussion with men and women who know first hand the devastating effects of abuse and cover up" Sunday night in Washington DC.

"The bishops all say the sex crisis is their top priority," Blaine said. "Sitting down with us face-to-face is one simple way to show they're sincere."

Regardless of who wins the election, SNAP urges Catholics to continue being vigilant and vitims to keep reporting to criminal authorities.

"It would be reckless and naive to expect that any bishop chosen by his peers might make a real difference on the abuse crisis," said John Salveson of Philadelphia, SNAP Board National Member. "Kids will be safe when victims and witnesses call the trained and unbiased professionals in law enforcement, instead of church volunteers or officials. We must trust secular processes, not individual bishops, to safeguard children."

The USCCB's communications department is available at 202/541-3200. The bishops meeting runs from Nov. 15 - Nov. 18 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.


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