|Public Show of Support for Accused Could Send Wrong Message
By Virginia Hennessey
May 17, 2009
When the Rev. Antonio Cortes goes to court for a preliminary hearing Friday on charges alleging he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy, the courtroom will likely be packed with his faithful supporters.
A national spokesman for victims of sexual molestation said such public displays of support are common, but inappropriate, in clergy abuse cases.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said vocal support for accused child molesters sends a damaging message to others who are being abused, whether at the hands of a priest or a parent: Don't tell. No one will believe you.
The Catholic Church's failure to teach this message to its parishioners, Clohessy said, is one of the more egregious aspects of the clergy abuse scandal.
Bishop Richard Garcia and other leaders of the Diocese of Monterey have asked parishioners at St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Salinas to cooperate with the criminal investigation of Cortes. Pastoral counseling has been offered to church members.
But the potentially chilling effect public support may have on other abuse victims has not been the subject of formal discussion, diocese spokesman Warren Hoy said.
Cortes is accused of plying a 16-year-old boy with alcohol and providing him "spiritual massages" that culminated in sodomy April 14. The boy reported the alleged assault to school authorities, who called Salinas police.
Condoms, boxer shorts and bottles of liquor were seized during a search of Cortes' residence. Police reported they found child pornography on his computers and hard drives.
Each of his court appearances has been attended by many supporters, some of whom are paying for his high-priced defense team, which includes Salinas attorneys Miguel Hernandez, J. Hernandez and Eugene Martinez. Cortes remains jailed in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Clohessy said people who want to support an accused priest should do so privately with letters or visits to jail, rather than publicly rallying to his side.
"It is extraordinarily rare for there to be false allegations against a priest," Clohessy said. "Even in that case (where the claims are false), when parishioners immediately and instantly assume he is innocent and rush to his side, history and psychology tell us that somewhere in that parish is a little boy being abused by a coach or a little girl being molested by her father and the predator speaks up and says no one will believe you.
"The victim stays silent and keeps being abused," he said, "as does her younger sister and his older brother."
Instead, Clohessy said, diocese leaders should be telling parishioners to keep an open mind, discourage gossip about the suspected accuser and use the situation as a tool to talk to their children about inappropriate touching and ask them if they have ever been abused.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or email@example.com.
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